Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Big Ben repairs: 'Clock hands could fall off' if millions of pounds is not spent on urgent work

Bongs: The Great Clock, also known as Big Ben, at the Houses of Parliament Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Big Ben’s nine-foot hands could “fall off” unless urgent repair work to the tune of millions is carried out, it has been claimed.

The monument is in such a bad state of repair that chronic problems with the bearings behind the 
hands and pendulum could cause it to “stop – or worse”.

The dramatic warnings stem from a leaked Commons report into the clock’s upkeep, according to the Mail on Sunday, whose sources claim the ominous words “or worse” in the Parliamentary document refer to the possibility of the hands dropping off.

Action on cracks in the roof and other defects is needed urgently, the report adds.

“There are major concerns that if [work] is not carried out within the next two to three years, the clock mechanism is at risk of failure with the huge risk of international reputational damage for Parliament,” it reads.

“In the event of a clock-hand failure, it could take up to a year to repair due to the scaffolding needed.”

A full £29.2m refurbishment would see each of the clock faces worked on in turn, stopping the mechanism for four months – far longer than the previous record of 26 days without bongs, which were spread over nine months in 1976.

If work is left longer and the clock hands actually fail, the work could take a year and the bill could be some £40m, it is believed.

Preventative work to stop the clock breaking in the short term would cost a more manageable £4.9m, officials are reported to have said, but that could leave the building open to far more costly future repairs. As well as a clock fix, the tower needs to be brought in line with fire safety rules so it can be quickly evacuated.

A House of Commons spokeswoman said today: “A feasibility study and survey work has been carried out on the Elizabeth Tower in order to understand in detail the condition of the building fabric, the clock mechanism, and the building services.

“Committees of both Houses are currently considering the study and will provide advice to inform the business case for how best to proceed. No decisions on works, timescales or costs have been agreed.”

In the summer it was reported the famous “bongs” were sounding up to six seconds too late as the ageing clock had become “temperamental”.

Big Ben is officially the name of the bell, although it typically lends its moniker to the Great Clock and the Elizabeth Tower that surround it.

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