Tests are being carried out to determine whether the UK Houses of Parliament contain the form of crumbling concrete that caused ministers last week to tell more than 100 schools to close buildings.
(Bloomberg) — Tests are being carried out to determine whether the UK Houses of Parliament contain the form of crumbling concrete that caused ministers last week to tell more than 100 schools to close buildings.
Surveyors are investigating if any parts of the parliamentary estate have reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) within their fabric, a person familiar with the work said. Tests are ongoing, and authorities are unable to say whether RAAC has yet been found, they said.
The presence of the material in public structures has caused a political storm for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after last week’s announcement that 104 schools would have to close buildings just days before the start of the new academic year, disrupting classes for thousands of children already affected by pandemic-era closures.
If detected, its presence in the Parliamentary estate would add to a growing list of problems besetting the aging buildings, including crumbling masonry, asbestos, leaks, vermin infestations and decades-old electrical wiring. Successive governments have shied away from committing to a restoration plan, baulking at the high cost and the necessity to move lawmakers to a different location.
In 2022, a body commissioned to produce estimates for a full-scale restoration found it could cost as much as £22 billion ($28 billion) and take as long as 76 years to complete the work.
The Houses of Parliament were rebuilt in the late 19th century after its historic structures were destroyed by a fire. The present day estate often resembles a work site, with props holding up ceilings and parts of the estate cordoned off as builders carry out essential refurbishments.
RAAC was used in a ceiling that collapsed in a primary school in 2018. As many as 1,100 schools could face closures after further risks were identified over the summer, while buildings including hospitals and courts could also be impacted.
Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin is leading cross-departmental work looking into the possible existence of RAAC in other public buildings.
The opposition Labour Party has seized on the crisis as a metaphor for the crumbling state of Britain’s public services after 13 years of Conservative governments, with a general election due in Britain before January 2025. It has derailed Sunak’s efforts to reset his government following the summer parliamentary recess.
–With assistance from Kitty Donaldson.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.