The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral


The awful fire at Notre-Dame in Paris should require us to sound a warning bell about the risk to our own historic buildings.  The Palace of Westminster - also a Unesco World Heritage Site - is a known risk.

The building is in urgent need of repair.  85 per cent of plant rooms have overdue repairs.  Steam, gas and water services are laid on top of each other, often alongside high voltage wires.

Fire safety officers are required to patrol 24 hours each day to help keep the building safe.  60 small fires broke out in the decade to 2017.

This is about the safety of people as well as the integrity of the building.  8,000 people work at the Palace of Westminster, and thousands more visit every day.  

 But while officials believe that if a fire were to start everyone could be evacuated, they are not confident that the building could be saved.

Of course, the building has burned down before, in 1834, despite official warnings of an impending disaster.  Both Houses of Parliament were destroyed along with most of the other buildings on the site.

Westminster Hall was saved largely due to heroic fire-fighting efforts, and a change in the direction of the wind during the night. 

The eleventh century Hall is the oldest building in Parliament, almost the only part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives in original form.

The hammer beam roof (similar to the one which just burned down at Notre Dame) is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. 

Like Notre Dame, the Hall is integral to the rich history of our country.  It housed the trials of Sir Thomas More and Charles I.

 When Parliament last burned down, King William IV offered the use of Buckingham Palace as a temporary replacement, but MPs turned him down.

The Palace of Westminster was rebuilt at huge cost, and there is concern about expense again.  At last, MPs and Peers have voted to moved out while repairs take place, but the earliest anticipated start date is 2025.

Thank goodness there was no loss of life at Notre Dame, unlike the terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower in London, and the first priority must always be to keep our citizens safe.

But we have been warned once again.  We must make sure that our priceless national heritage is protected.

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