Without repairs or restoration, Big Ben’s 9-foot-long, 660-pound gunmetal clock hands could break off and plummet to the ground.
A leaked House of Commons report about the dilapidated state of the iconic, 156-year-old tower pulled no punches, as revealed by the Daily Mail.
The implications of not conducting a refurbishment came out as members of Parliament discussed a £29.2 million ($45.1 million) plan for urgent repairs, which, as the Daily Mail said, would stop Big Ben’s clock for four months, the longest span of suspending timekeeping in the tower’s history.
A £7 billion ($10.8 billion) Palace of Westminster restoration has to take a backseat to Big Ben repairs because of the urgency, the Daily Mail said.
The clock mechanism as a whole is at risk, the report stated, per the Daily Mail: “The clock currently has chronic problems with the bearings behind the hands and the pendulum. Either could become acute at any time, causing the clock to stop — or worse.”
A source close to the Commons Finance Committee said to the Daily Mail that some Parliament members believed “worse” implied the clock hands could fall off.
“Severe metal erosion, cracks in the roof and other structural defects” were also mentioned as targets for restoration by the report.
Two options face Parliament, a £4.9 million ($7.6 million) repair just to prevent clock failure, or a full-scale restoration that would also include the addition of a visitor center at the foot of the tower plus an elevator, according to the Daily Mail.
Seemingly in favor of the clock-only fix, one member of Parliament said, per the Daily Mail, “We’ve managed without a lift since Queen Victoria’s day so in these belt-tightening times, we can do without one a bit longer.”
Taking a broader perspective about Big Ben’s future, the report said, “There are major concerns that if this is not carried out within the next two to three years, the clock mechanism is at risk of failure with the huge risk of international reputational damage for Parliament.”
Continuing this theme of preserving Britain’s status on the world stage, the report mentioned Big Ben’s role “as a symbol of democracy” and its “international iconic status,” stating it was the duty of Parliament members to repair the clock and preserve it for the nation and the world.
A House of Commons spokesperson told the Daily Mail that no repair decisions have been made yet.
The Daily Mail said the record for a Big Ben shutdown is 26 days intermittently over nine months in 1976, during repairs. BBC bulletins with pips on the hour replaced the tower’s chimes.
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