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Buckingham Palace's £369m revamp: All you need to know

Imagining The Queen wading through Buckingham Palace in a pair of wellies following a burst water pipe sounds like a sketch cooked up by the cast of Monty Python. 

But this scenario is not beyond the realms of possibility. 

Buckingham Palace, home to the Royal Family since the 17th century, and one of the most iconic buildings in the world, needs a major revamp – a £396m revamp to be precise. 

The building’s essential services – electrical cabling, plumbing, fire systems and data systems – have not been updated since the 1950s and the aftermath of WWII.

An options appraisal report, penned by a consortium led by WSP and HOK, called for the Royal Household to “act now” to restore the palace due to the “serious long-term issues of conservation and repair” it faces.

What work needs to be done? Who is lining up to scoop the contracts? Will The Queen move out while works are ongoing, or will she need to wear a hardhat? We answer all your questions:

The risks

In WSP and HOK’s options appraisal report, the following risks to the palace were identified:

Fire

One major risk the palace faces lies in its mains cabling, made of Vulcanised India Rubber. This network is very old and poses a significant fire risk. The threat is found in the 26 sub-mains cables between the two main and sub-distribution boards: they are over 60 years old and need to be urgently replaced.

Around 130 circuits located in less accessible areas, such as the palace’s state rooms, also present a fire risk.

Although the palace has a fire detection system, if one of these cables caught fire it is likely this would be concealed and remain undetected – causing serious damage.

Flooding

Additional water storage chambers need to be added underneath the palace to protect the pipework network from flooding.

Water damage from heating

The palace’s heating pipework was installed over 60 years ago, with some of the valves in poor condition. Because of this, there is a significant risk of water damage if these need to be isolated in an emergency.

Brickwork damage

Although some of the key parts of the building’s boilers have been upgraded, all of them need to be replaced to avoid a significant failure.

Boiler gas rises through the chimney, which has significantly damaged the brickwork due to the sulphur caused by waste gases.

Timeline of work

Construction News can reveal details of the construction timeline of the scheme after seeing PQQ documents for the project:

1) High priority works and design work: 2017-April 2019

  • Vulcanised India Rubber cabling will be removed. This cabling is considered to be a significant fire risk and in need of urgent replacement.
  • Heating and electrical services will be replaced in the palace’s basements.

2) Above ground construction starts: April 2019.

The programme will be sequenced wing by wing, so the palace can carry on business as usual. Works will rotate clockwise around the palace in the following order:

  • East wing
  • South wing
  • South-west wing
  • North wing

The west wing and state apartments will be “progressed incrementally throughout the ten years of the programme”. This is to allow for the palace’s summer opening public tours to take place as usual, which regularly attract around 500,000 vistors a year. 

Each contract will be awarded separately for each of the programme’s phases.

3) Expected completion date: 2027

Opportunities up for grabs

There are three lots that firms can apply to bid for, which are:

Lot one: Multi-disciplinary building services design and engineering (six to be invited to tender)

Lot two: Independent cost consultant (six to be invited to tender)

Lot three: Framework for the provision of key programme management office directors (10 to be invited to tender). Key roles include:

  • Programme director
  • Design director
  • Commercial director
  • Controls director
  • Construction director

Lots one and two will be let under single contracts and lot three will be let four to six contracts to different organisations.

Firms can only win one contract.

It is understood that WSP, CH2M, and Arcadis are among the firms lining up for the works.

CN has learnt Mace and Aecom are exploring the opportunity of forming a joint venture for the revamp, while sources also tipped Capita, Turner & Townsend and Gardiner & Theobald.  

Apprenticeships and graduate programmes will be set up to “offer a new generation of construction professionals to work on a historic building”, according to documents seen by Construction News.

The project also offers a “unique opportunity for innovation and investment”.

Will she stay or will she go?

The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family will stay put in the palace while works are going on.

The revamp will carry on through the busy summer months and during the summer opening tours.

By the end of the programme, an extra 115,000 visitors will be able to access the building: a 22 per cent increase in visitor capacity.

Major national events will still be held including the Changing of the Guard, the Trooping the Colour, Investitures and Garden Parties.

Revamping the Palace: in numbers

The following services will be replaced:

  • 161 km of electrical cabling
  • 6,500 electrical sockets
  • 5,000 light fittings
  • 330 fuse boxes
  • 32 km of heating pipework
  • 16 km of hot and cold water pipework
  • 2,500 radiators
  • 500 pieces of sanitary ware
  • 32 km of skirting board
  • 30,000 sq m of floorboards will be replaced – equivalent to 3.5 football pitches

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