London's Big Ben to fall silent during repairs next year

Cleaners abseiling down one of the faces of Big Ben on Aug 19, 2014.
Cleaners abseiling down one of the faces of Big Ben on Aug 19, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Big Ben will fall silent for several months while the iconic London clock tower next to the Houses of Parliament undergoes much-needed repairs, officials said on Tuesday (April 26).

The bell, whose chimes feature on British television and radio news bulletins, will be silenced as part of £29 million (S$57 million) repairs starting in 2017 and lasting for three years.

The work will repair the clock faces and mechanism, cracks in the tower's masonry and corrosion in the roof, as well as restoring 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 LEDs.

"The clock mechanism will need to be stopped for several months in order to carry out essential maintenance," a House of Commons spokesman said.

"During this period there will be no chimes," she said, adding that "striking and tolling" of the bell would continue for marking important occasions.

"Big Ben" is the name of the bell, while the 96-metre tower holding it is the Elizabeth Tower.

It was designed in neo-Gothic style by parliament architect Augustus Pugin and was completed in 1856.

"In order to keep the clock ticking, we must now take the time to thoroughly inspect and restore it," said Mr Steve Jaggs, the official "Keeper of the Clock".

"The project will enable us to give one of Britain's most famous landmarks the TLC (tender loving care) it so desperately needs and deserves".

The Houses of Parliament itself is also in need of urgent repairs which could see Members of Parliament being forced to relocate for a number of years.

The speaker of the lower house John Bercow has said that they could have to move out for good unless major renovations take place in the next decade at a cost of some £3 billion.