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01 December 2023

British MPs to mull how to halt Big Ben tilt


British lawmakers were to meet Monday to discuss renovating the Houses of Parliament, including how to manage the tilting Big Ben clock tower -- and even whether to sell the building to save cash.

The House of Commons Commission, a committee which manages the iconic 19th century Gothic building on the banks of London's River Thames, is expected to order a study into what work needs to de done, at a meeting on Monday evening.

One of the issues likely to be considered will be the tilting of the clock tower, known as Big Ben after the bell that it holds, which has developed a tilt -- 0.26 degrees to the north west, to be precise.

This has increased very slightly since 2003, although an expert study completed in October found it was unlikely to be a problem for 10,000 years.

Also under consideration will be the cracks that have appeared in the walls of the building, caused by subsidence due to work on parliament's underground car park and new subway tunnels in the area.

Under government guidelines, the study must consider every option, including whether it would be cheaper to sell off the building -- possibly to Chinese or Russian investors, according to reports -- or even knock it down and rebuild.

"When it comes to the options stage, the guidelines advise you that, however silly or immediately ruled out any option may be, you need to have it on the table, to think about it," a House of Commons spokesman told AFP.

"For example knocking down and rebuilding; selling and renting somewhere else."

However, he added: "This is certainly not part of our official thinking."

Some form of government building has stood on the site of the Houses of Parliament since the 11th century, when King Canute built a royal palace there.
Most of the structures were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1834, leaving only Westminster Hall and a few other buildings, and the current Houses of Parliament were constructed in their place.

The feasibility study is likely to last about a year, and any renovation could easily take two decades, the spokesman said.