Buckingham Palace to get $647 million overhaul

Irish Guards leave Buckingham Palace after forming the honour guard for Britain's Queen Elizabeth during the State Opening of Parliament in London on May 9, 2012.
Irish Guards leave Buckingham Palace after forming the honour guard for Britain's Queen Elizabeth during the State Opening of Parliament in London on May 9, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Buckingham Palace will get a £369 million (S$647.83 million) overhaul to replace leaky pipes and old cabling under a taxpayer-funded plan unveiled on Friday (Nov 18) by royal officials and the government.

The works are expected to start next year and last until 2027 and will see solar panels installed on the roof of the palace as well as more space for public visits.

The government is asking Parliament to approve the £369 million funding needed for the work by increasing the share the royals receive from the Crown Estate, which manages royal properties, to 25 per cent from 15 per cent over the period.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip would remain in residence but would have to temporarily move rooms, while some of the 37 staff who currently live in the palace permanently would have to leave.

"This palace is very much part of our DNA," Mr Tony Johnstone-Burt, Master of the Queen's Household, told reporters at a briefing in a palace drawing room.

He warned of "significant risk of electric shocks and fire" from 60-year-old cables, as well as "potential leakage from lead pipes" that could damage paintings.

The project is planned to start in April and royal officials said they expected MPs would approve it by the end of March at the latest, following a recommendation from the government for it to go ahead.

The palace traces its origins back to the 17th century and has been vastly expanded since then.

Much of the building work would be out of the public eye and temporary accommodation for 125 people would be built in the garden to house staff and builders.

Royal traditions such as Changing of the Guard and the Trooping of the Colour parade held on the queen's birthday would continue as usual, officials said.