Charles Walker, of the Commons committee overseeing the parliamentary estate, told MPs last month (20 July) that an incident on 11 July when a panel in the atrium broke had been the latest in a series of issues that have plagued the central courtyard’s glazed roof.
The Conservative MP for Broxbourne revealed that the July episode followed two other breakages reported since 2019 and 12 recorded leaks since 2018.
The 22-year-old building is used by MPs, staff and visitors to Parliament. Previously reported incidents include breakages in 2005, 2008 and 2014. ‘Anti-shatter film’ was placed over the atrium’s panels in 2012.
Now a report into the future of the glass atrium – referred to as the ‘Portcullis House roof project’ – is expected to be published before the end of August, Walker said in a written answer to MPs.
A House of Commons spokesperson told the AJ that the study would outline the scale of repairs needed to shore-up Portcullis House’s atrium and that a budget would come at a later date. A complete replacement is not anticipated at this stage.
‘Parliament is currently at the early stages of this project, scoping out requirements which will inform a finalised programme of works and budgets at a later stage,’ said the spokesperson.
‘The project will ensure Portcullis House can continue to provide safe, secure, serviceable and reliable facilities that provide sufficient capacity to meet the long-term needs of the house and ensure sustainability targets are adhered to where practicable.’
A 2002 National Audit Office report found that in its first 12 months alone, 7,500 defects were found in Hopkins’ atrium, requiring repair work.
More recently, a 2016 study found that small movements in the roof were causing cracks in the glazing panels. Computer modelling and more than 350 measuring points identified seasonal variations and settlement in the building’s roof structure which could also have been a factor.
The study, commissioned by the House of Commons Strategic Estates team, said £1.5 million was needed for the remainder of the building’s 30-year-life span and that instances of breakages would reduce over time.
Images shared on social media of the latest breakage showed water falling from the atrium.
Historic England has previously rejected calls to list the palazzo-style office in the face of a BDP-designed masterplan for Parliament’s Northern Estate, which was put on indefinite hold in January 2021.
Hopkins said in a statement to the AJ: ‘It is disappointing to see reports of leaks etc via the press, but we have no involvement in the running or maintenance of the building.
‘As such it is difficult for us to comment other than to say that Portcullis House had an overall design life of 125 years, and the double glazing which was installed before handover in 2000 is coming to the end of its expected 25-year life.
‘The 7,500 defects referred to in the National Audit Office Report of 2002 are the combined number of “snags” issued prior to practical completion together with the contractor’s subsequent defects list from one year later, most of which were very minor.’
Ceiling of Portcullis house just cracked open and water pouring in! pic.twitter.com/e6CH8G9KnI
— Natasha Porter OBE (@NPorter_) July 11, 2023