Bill to repair Big Ben tower ticks upward

Pedestrians crossing Waterloo Bridge against a backdrop of the Palace of Westminster and the Big Ben clock tower in London. The cost of renovating Elizabeth Tower, which houses the famous clock, has increased by millions of pounds after the discovery
Pedestrians crossing Waterloo Bridge against a backdrop of the Palace of Westminster and the Big Ben clock tower in London. The cost of renovating Elizabeth Tower, which houses the famous clock, has increased by millions of pounds after the discovery of World War II bomb damage, pollution and asbestos, Britain's Parliament said yesterday. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • The bill to repair London's iconic Big Ben clock tower has increased by millions of pounds after the discovery of World War II bomb damage, pollution and asbestos, Britain's Parliament said yesterday.

The cost of renovating the Elizabeth Tower housing the famous clock, which began in 2017, is now set to rise to nearly £80 million (S$144.6 million).

The extensive damage requiring an extra £18.6 million was revealed only after the project team was able to begin intrusive surveys for the first time on the 177-year-old structure.

However, the efforts to restore the tower "to its previous splendour" remain on track for com-pletion late next year, according to officials.

A spokesman for the House of Commons Commission, which is overseeing the project, called the spiralling costs "very frustrating".

Mr Ian Ailles, director-general of the House of Commons, said the task of restoring the Elizabeth Tower "had been more complex than we could have anticipated".

"With a 12 sq m footprint and a prime location right in the middle of a busy working Parliament, understanding the full extent of the damage to the tower was im-possible until the scaffolding was up," he said.

The work is to repair the clock faces and mechanism, cracks in the tower's masonry and corrosion in the roof, as well as to restore the edging around the clock faces to its original 19th century colour.

A lift will also be installed as an alternative to the steps up the tower, and the lights illuminating the clock will be replaced by low-energy LED lights.

Completed in the neo-Gothic style in 1856 by Parliament architect Augustus Pugin, the tower has suffered from considerable degradation over time, and now even leans 46cm off the vertical.

The renovations have meant that Big Ben - whose chimes feature on British television and radio news bulletins - has been largely silent since 2017.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'Bill to repair Big Ben tower ticks upward'. Print Edition | Subscribe