The leaning tower of Big Ben: how serious is it?

Jan 23, 2012

Will we be forced to sell Parliament to the Russians before it sinks into the Thames? Er, probably not

THE PALACE of Westminster is sinking into the Thames mud, according to surveyors, and Big Ben is leaning so much that tourists are starting to notice. The problem is severe enough that when MPs meet today to discuss the matter, one of the options on the table will be to sell the building and move the seat of power to another location.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the Clock Tower, which houses the bell referred to as Big Ben, is leaning by 18 degrees to the vertical. When viewed from Parliament Square, tourists can see it leaning to the left.

Meanwhile, there are large cracks in the walls of the House of Commons and the Lords.

The Daily Mail reports that the site is worth £1bn - and it would cost £1bn to stabilise it. Building a replacement parliament elsewhere would cost £500m. An 'insider' told the paper: "The stark choice is to spend the money and look extravagant, or to abandon one of the most iconic buildings in the world and sell it to the Russians or Chinese."

A more likely solution will see MPs move out of the Commons - perhaps for two years - and sit perhaps in the Lords Chamber or even what the Mail breathlessly describes as a "secret emergency base that is ready for use in the event of a terrorist attack".

But will even that option be necessary? John Burland, emeritus professor at Imperial College, who helped stabilise the leaning tower of Pisa - and built a five-storey car park under the Palace of Westminster - was in optimistic mood when he spoke to the BBC's Today programme this morning. He believes the tower containing Big Ben has probably been leaning since before it was even finished in 1858.

The professor said he was "not in the least" worried about Big Ben, adding:"There is no such thing as an old building that isn't cracked. In fact [cracks] are beneficial."

The cracks allow the building to move with changes in temperature, Prof Burland explained.

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