February 1, 2018 / 10:02 AM / 10 months ago

British lawmakers to quit the Palace of Westminster for refit

FILE PHOTO - Britain's Palace of Westminster is silhouetted against the setting sun, London, Britain, December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers will leave the Palace of Westminster for at least six years to allow for a proposed multi-billion pound refurbishment, the first time politicians have left the historic building en masse since World War Two.

At a vote on Wednesday, lawmakers voted in favor of a “full decant” of the building, home to the “Big Ben” clock tower, perhaps London’s best-known landmark, to try to fix a multitude of problems that some politicians said had made the palace a potential “death trap”.

The planned move, part of a proposed 5.6 billion pound ($8 billion) modernization, will not take effect until 2025 at the earliest.

“There are difficult decisions to make on how we best protect one of the world’s most iconic buildings for future generations, but we must address these decisions head on,” Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, told lawmakers, many of whom were reluctant to leave the building.

“The Palace of Westminster is the seat of our democracy, an iconic world famous building and it is in dire need of repair,” she said, adding there were “critical risks” at the palace, where over the last 10 years 60 incidents could have ended in fire.

Westminster has been at the heart of British politics for some 900 years and lawmakers have gathered on the same site since 1547. The Palace of Westminster was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1834 and it was rebuilt in 1852. The Big Ben bell was installed in the clock tower seven years later.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper

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