LONDON (AP) — Buckingham Palace needs a taxpayer-funded face-lift if it’s to remain fit for the queen.
The London home of Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t been upgraded since just after World War II, and needs urgent infrastructure work to fix plumbing, electrical cables and heating, palace officials said Friday.
The work will cost some 369 million pounds ($459 million) over 10 years and is considered critical to safeguarding the building from fire or flood damage. If the work goes as planned, the palace won’t need another renovation until 2067, when Prince William would be 85, or five years younger than the current monarch.
Palace officials acknowledge that the sum is vast, but hope the public will accept the expenditure for a building that symbolizes a nation.
“We take the responsibility that comes with receiving these public funds extremely seriously indeed,” said Tony Johnstone-Burt, the official in charge of administering the royal family’s affairs. “Equally, we are convinced that by making this investment in Buckingham Palace now we can avert a much more costly and potentially catastrophic building failure in the years to come.”
The project will be paid for through a temporary increase in the Sovereign Grant, a percentage of the profits from the Crown Estate.
The cost of the refurbishing prompted dissent from the anti-royal campaign group, Republic.
“Royal attitude always the same: it’s theirs to use and ours to pay for,” the group said on its Twitter feed. “Time we took the palace back and turned it into world class museum.”
The scale of the project is enormous — though it deals with the parts of the palace the public would not see in a building that boasts 775 rooms including 78 bathrooms and 19 state rooms. Some 30,000 square meters of floorboards, for example, will need to be lifted to fix cabling.
In a nod to the environmentally minded Prince Charles, solar panels will be installed.
The queen will be able to remain at home during the works, though she will have to move to another part of the palace when her private apartments are renovated.
The project envisions the improvement of visitor facilities and improved public access, making it more accessible for the disabled, for example.
The palace is one of Britain’s most recognizable buildings, the backdrop for national occasions, royal balcony kisses and post-war victory celebrations. Tourists flock to its gates to watch the Changing of the Guard, while the facade that faces the flag-draped Mall features in the snapshots of millions.
More than half a million people visit during its summer opening, together with some 90,000 annually that attend state receptions, garden parties and official events.
“Tourists are drawn to this country because of our culture, heritage and royal legacy, and when they visit they spend billions of pounds and support thousands of jobs,” said David Gauke, the chief secretary to the Treasury. “We must ensure that the special architectural and historic natures of some of our greatest buildings are protected for future generations.”
The architect John Nash developed the building into a palace between the 1825 and 1840. Queen Victoria added the balcony and built a wing to extend accommodation and entertaining.
Bombed during World War II, restoration work began there in 1950. At the initiative of the Duke of Edinburgh, a new public gallery to display works from the Royal Collection was created at the site of the chapel bombed in the war.
Britain’s royal family need not look far into the past to see the devastating consequences that fire can have on structures that are hundreds of years old. A spotlight left too close to a curtain touched off a fire that raged for hours at Windsor Castle in 1992, a year the queen described as her “annus horribilis.” Windsor is the Queen’s favorite palace, the place she’s said to regard as her personal home.
Similar damage to a single wing at Buckingham Palace would cost an estimated 250 million pounds.
Underlining the desperate state of things, palace officials used images of Clandon Park, a Palladian mansion recently gutted by fire, and the Royal Clarence Hotel, a landmark in the city of Exeter that was destroyed, to underline why the work must take place now.
The most critical work on Buckingham Palace is set to begin in April 2017.
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