On Monday 21 August at noon, Big Ben’s famous bongs will sound for the last time before major conservation works are carried out. The Elizabeth Tower, home to the Great Clock and Big Ben, is currently undergoing a complex programme of renovation work that will safeguard it for future generations. While this vital work takes place, the Great Bell’s world famous striking will be paused until 2021 to ensure the safety of those working in the Tower.

Steve Jaggs, Keeper of the Great Clock, said “Big Ben falling silent is a significant milestone in this crucial conservation project. As Keeper of the Great Clock I have the great honour of ensuring this beautiful piece of Victorian engineering is in top condition on a daily basis. This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home – the Elizabeth Tower. Members of the public are welcome to mark this important moment by gathering in Parliament Square to hear Big Ben’s final bongs until they return in 2021.”

The Great Bell, popularly called Big Ben, weighs 13.7 tonnes and strikes every hour to the note of E. It is accompanied by four quarter bells, which chime every 15 minutes. Big Ben has marked the hour with almost unbroken service for the past 157 years. The bongs last fell silent for maintenance in 2007, and prior to that between 1983-5 as part of a previous large scale refurbishment programme.

The Great Clock is operated by a custom built Victorian clockwork mechanism, which relies on gravity to trigger the renowned bongs. To stop the bells the striking hammers will be locked and the bell disconnected from the clock mechanism, allowing the Great Clock to continue telling the time silently. Parliament’s specialist clock makers will ensure that Big Ben can still bong for important national events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. The bells will resume their regular time keeping duties in the course of 2021.

Conservation works

Standing at 96 metres tall, the Elizabeth Tower is a focal point of the Grade I listed Palace of Westminster, which forms a part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not only is it a world famous landmark, it is also the most photographed building in the UK. Conservation is required to:

  • Repair problems identified with the Elizabeth Tower and the Great Clock, which cannot be rectified whilst the clock is in action
  • Conserve significant elements of the Tower, as designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin
  • Repair and redecorate the interior, renew the building services and make improvements to health and safety and fire protection systems
  • Improve energy efficiency to reduce the Tower’s environmental impact

The project started earlier this year, with the start of scaffolding works. Once this scaffolding reaches the necessary height, work will begin at the very top of the Tower with the renovation of the Ayrton Light (which shines to show that Parliament is sitting) and the refurbishment of the cast iron roofing.

The team will then work their way down the building, removing scaffolding as they go, and tackling a wide range of the complex issues created by the height and heritage of this unique landmark.

The Great Clock

As part of this intricate series of works, the Great Clock itself will be dismantled piece by piece with each cog examined and restored. The four dials will be carefully cleaned, the glass repaired, the cast iron framework renewed, and the hands will be removed and refurbished. Whilst the Great Clock and the dials are undergoing conservation, it will be necessary to cover the faces for some time. However, to ensure that the public are still able to set their watches by this most important of time pieces, one working clock face will remain visible at all times throughout the works. As the clock mechanism itself will be temporarily out of action, a modern electric motor will drive the clock hands until the Great Clock is reinstated.

Whitehall is currently abuzz with panicked chatter, deep anguish and parliamentarian discomfort. With general consensus now being that the palace of Westminster is in dire need of a retrofit, the taxpayer will ultimately be footing the bill. Seeing as we voters currently have the choice of who goes in and out of Parliament, shouldn’t we also have a say on its refurbishment? Building Specifier editor Joe Bradbury discusses.

A brief history

Completed in the 1860s, the Palace of Westminster is an iconic building that currently houses the British Parliament. It is a world famous and instantly recognisable structure and stands as a celebrated international symbol of our parliamentary democracy. Just as UK Parliament is constantly in a state of flux, so too has the building; adapting accordingly to suit its primary and functional purpose. Taking massive damage during the WWII blitz, the Houses of Parliament were repaired as a matter of utmost national priority post-1945. The project was seen as a real opportunity to create some much-needed new facilities that would be consistent with the original design.

From the 1960s onwards the requirement for individual Members of Parliament to have offices, coupled with the expansion of other parliamentary services led to the acquisition of additional buildings and the Palace became the core of a much larger Parliamentary Estate. In 1992 responsibility for maintaining the Palace ‘on behalf of the nation’ transferred from the Government to Parliament itself. How did this work out?

Fighting a losing battle

It appears that since 1992, every effort has been made to maintain what is ultimately an outdated and increasingly unsuitable infrastructure. Services such as heating, cooling, water, sewage, electricity and cabling have been kept semi-functioning, but have not been modernised. Astoundingly, there has been no real general renovation of the building and its services since the partial rebuild of 1945-50 – some of the services even predate the war. The original basements and vertical shafts that litter the building are now completely filled with pipes and cables, making further work difficult to carry out – which results in further expense.

Reports illustrate that asbestos features heavily throughout the palace and although asbestos remains safe if treated with great care in compliance with safety regulations, it makes any intervention so much more difficult. Another issue is that most of the work undertaken over the last 50 years is largely undocumented and since many areas are inaccessible, the state of dilapidation and subsequent risk is mostly uncharted. The building is completely at the mercy of fire, with little modern safety practices in place and fire compartmentation considered almost impossible.

The original roofs are no longer watertight and there are many areas plagued with penetrating damp, damaged by interior leaks and flooding.

Today, an influential committee is expected to recommend that MPs and peers should abandon the crumbling Houses of Parliament for six years so that drastic refit works can be carried out.

The cost

So now at the crux of the issue, how much does it cost to renovate a 150 year old Grade I listed building which is partly sinking, contains asbestos and has outdated cabling? The short answer is ‘a lot.’ The sheer amount of work and the sensitive nature of refurbishing a World Heritage Site results in a sky-high estimate of between £3.5bn and £5.7bn, with some suggesting the sum could rise to as much as £7.1bn.

A 2012 report warned that “major, irreversible damage” may be done to the building unless significant restoration work is carried out soon, making the refurbishment one of the most urgent and arguably important renovation projects in the UK today. Some feel that the whole thing is a needless expense to the taxpayer and a vanity project for British Parliament. Another previous report concluded that the maintenance costs alone are so astronomically high that if the Palace of Westminster was a commercial structure of no historical significance, it would be far more cost-effective and efficient to demolish it and rebuild using modern methods of construction, such as modular offsite building.

Whatever you stance, the Houses of Parliament are of national, historical and cultural importance and refurbishment will happen. It should therefore be imperative that efforts are made to soften the bludgeoning blow to the taxpayer’s pocket, shouldn’t it?

“Should I stay or should I go?” The parliament predicament

Assuming renovation does take place, the big decision to make will be whether Parliamentarians stay put throughout restoration works or whether there will be a need for them to temporarily relocate. Estimates predict that if the palace was vacated for just 6 years, the cost of works would total around £3bn. If MPs decide they want to stay whilst work is undertaken, the figure is doubled and renovation is expected to take up to 32 years. Needless to say, vacation of the building for six years is the cheapest, quickest and viable solution. One option would be to set up temporarily over the road, by moving to either the Methodist Central Hall or the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Some have suggested MPs could relocate as far away as Birmingham – or perhaps even hold a touring parliament. This option is unsurprisingly unpopular with many parliamentarians.

There are some interesting and difficult challenges ahead, some difficult decisions to take, but I would say to the House that instinctively I think it is important that this building remains consistently at the heart of our democracy and that we don’t end up being forced to move somewhere else. – Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling

Others feel that something must be done quickly and efficiently.

Doing nothing or muddling on are not options. – Lichfield Conservative MP Michael Fabricant

Who makes the decision?

A select committee of both the House of Commons and House of Lords is expected to be formed to consider the findings of the Independent Options Appraisal and make recommendations to members of both houses. In the meantime a joint committee of Commons and Lords will be set up with the task of recommending a way forward. A decision on which option to adopt is expected to be taken by MPs next year, with work to begin after the next election in 2020. However, is it really their decision to make?

Affectionately nicknamed the “Mother of Parliaments,” the British parliament is respected as the most ancient parliament in today’s world. Apart from a few brief interruptions, it has carried out its business on the same spot, the Palace of Westminster, since the year 1265.

The longevity and overwhelming presence of this building is a physical testament to our very democracy. Parliament was originally formed by the people, for the people. Therefore, under the very democracy that the building stands for, shouldn’t we have ultimate say over how our tax money is spent and renovation is undertaken? Meanwhile parliament continues to crumble around our legislature.

When Fife Council consulted its residents at Broomhead flats in Dunfermline about the future of their homes, the options were pretty clear cut. The three 50-year old blocks of flats had reached the point where they either needed significant investment to bring them up to the current Scottish Housing Quality Standard, or needed to be demolished and replaced with new build properties.

The result of the residents’ consultation favoured refurbishment and, in May 2014, Fife Council’s Housing and Communities Committee gave the go-ahead for this project to begin. A key requirement was to deliver refurbished homes which offer a higher level of protection against fuel poverty.

The multimillion pound project has transformed 216 properties, housed within the three 12-storey blocks. The building fabric has been brought up to a higher thermal standard, utilising product technology which was simply not available in the 1960s. And that primarily involved the £5.1m contract with CMS Window Systems for the replacement of windows, doors and curtain walling, application of external wall insulation (EWI) and replacing balconies.

CMS was appointed as the main envelope contractor after winning the competitive cost and quality based tender. For Fife Council, this helped simplify the procurement process and supply chain from the outset. CMS was able to help develop a specification for the windows, and their appointment ensured consistent quality, trouble free interface integration and clear communication channels – all proving important to the success of this extensive refurbishment project.

Every flat benefits from A-rated, highly insulating windows which are manufactured with Sheerframe lead-free PVCu profiles and feature thermally superior low-e softcoat double glazed sealed units. With a low U-value, the energy rating (WER) of these fully UK-made windows represents a huge improvement in thermal performance.

CMS also manufactured and installed aluminium curtain walling which spans up to eleven floors on each block, enclosing all communal walkways – equating to more than 2,000m2 of curtain walling. This replaced existing steel balustrades and steel screens in communal areas to raise the quality and visual appeal, internally and externally.

A third component to the structural elements was the replacement of balcony enclosures. CMS installed more than 1,700m2 of enclosures created using Windoor System 1000 featuring ‘Light’ glazing systems. Their design gives tenants the freedom to use their balconies all year round.

Completing the transformation of the building fabric, CMS also over-clad the external walls with a mix of insulated render and render only, as required, using mast climbers for safe access and to ensure speedy delivery with minimum disruption. With total wall coverage of more than 11,000m2, this extensive over-cladding work has improved the insulation level of all walls to complement the performance of the windows, doors and curtain walling.

John Rodigan, Senior Manager of Building Services at Fife Council said: “The Housing and Neighbourhood Service of the Council demonstrated great foresight in their decision to invest in the energy efficient measures at Broomhead.

“It’s also no coincidence that one of our most environmentally committed companies won the contract, it’s been the perfect partnership with all stakeholders sharing the same objectives. The result for the Broomhead tenants will be significant in terms of reduced energy costs and increased comfort. These works have made a substantial contribution to Fife’s green agenda as well as supporting local employment and trade apprenticeships – the delivery of this project has been a real triumph for the Council.”

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The exceptional waterproofing and durability properties of Sika-Trocal single ply roofing membrane has proved its worth on a highly challenging project to refurbish a number of roofs at a busy college campus.

MidKent College is one of the largest further education and training providers in the South East with an estimated 8,500 students enrolled at its Maidstone and Medway-based campuses. The roofs on five buildings at its Maidstone campus, housing classrooms, workshops, kitchens, TV studios and staff rooms had reached a state of disrepair due to wear and tear.

With water ponding on the roofs, leading to water ingress, a solution was required. Sika-Trocal S provided the solution. A total of 4,200m2 of 2mm thick Sika-Trocal S was specified by contractor K&S Construction for the project which was carried out during term-time and with minimum disruption to buildings on site.

The application of Sika-Trocal S was designed to minimise the standing water risk and ensure correct falls towards appropriate outlets and hoppers. This was achieved by over-roofing existing roofs consisting of a number of different bases including felt and asphalt.

Sika-Trocal’s vapour permeable membrane was mechanically fastened at the perimeters and around penetrations using the product’s innovative laminated metal disc system. This system sees the membrane fixed to the roof in a single process, ensuring a fast installation, minimising components required and reducing overall project costs. A 120mm thick, high performance rigid thermoset insulation was also applied to improve the thermal efficiency of the buildings. 

Stuart Marris, Manager at K&S Construction commented: “The MidKent College project is one of the biggest in the firm’s history so it was imperative we specified the most reliable product for the job. Because Sika-Trocal S is amazingly versatile and easy to apply it meant we could carry out the work with little disruption and without the need for people to move out of the building.

“Of its many outstanding features, Sika Trocal’s reliability scores most highly with us.

It is vapour permeable so if there is any water trapped in the system it is possible to over-roof the building without having to worry about things such as condensation.”

Offering exceptional waterproofing, durability and a simple installation process, the cold-applied Type S roofing membrane from Sika-Trocal is approved by the British Board of Agrément (BBA) to have a life expectancy of up to 30 years. As well as providing a single, comprehensive solution to the roofs’ drainage issue, it has brought a pleasing, aesthetic uniformity to the campus buildings. 

Combined with an efficient installation that ensures an improved seal, the Type S waterproofing membrane delivers excellent performance and will provide buildings at MidKent College with safe, reliable all-weather protection for many years to come.

For more information please visit

With capacity for almost 4000 guests and 96% occupancy, keeping the central area of Center Parcs Longleat Forest open was key to the refurbishment of its impressive Subtropical Swimming Paradise. A massive challenge for Delomac Roofing, the project to renew the roof with a Sika Sarnafil membrane was accomplished with two years of meticulous planning and 30 months of onsite construction.

Originally completed in 1994, the Subtropical Swimming Paradise roof and glazed rain-screen systems were in need of refurbishment. The new roof installation was planned in close discussion with the Sika Sarnafil and Delomac supply chain, developing the specification to address all the client’s strict performance, environmental and aesthetic requirements.

Chris Meadows, Technical Advisor, Sika Sarnafil explained: “The client needed a durable, long lasting roof system that would complement the woodland setting. This was complicated by differences between the swimming pool side and dry side, with restaurants and meeting rooms, of the building.

“We proposed two distinct solutions– a mechanically fastened system using Sarnafil S327-18EL for the dry side and an adhered system using Sarnafil G410-18EL for the more humid area. Both were specified in Patina Green to blend with the natural environment. Sarnafil membranes are cold applied and free from naked flames, the obvious choice for an open site.”

An innovative temporary terraced platform was designed and installed, suspended underneath the main structure by cables and lattice beam scaffold units. Work was carried out over 16 separate sections, like a wagon wheel – ensuring the structure was not compromised by uneven load distribution. This stepped, terraced temporary roof was then covered with plywood and completely weathered by Delomac with a Sarnafil membrane.

With the temporary roof in place, existing glazing and coverings could be safely removed, maintaining water-tightness with guests enjoying the facilities below. Scheduled over more than two years, this way of working resulted in a dry building envelope, despite some of the wettest weather on record.

Comprehensive vapour barrier measures were used on the pool side of the building to ensure the high humidity chlorinated environment was contained. Robust SFS sealant and Sarnafil metal-lined vapour barrier detailing at all Glulam beams and fascia interfaces ensured no risk of condensation.

Sarnafil membrane and accessories were used for all the coverings, and again overall specification development was tailored to suit the varying build-ups; new, overlay, bonded and mechanically fastened. An increased thickness membrane was manufactured in one single batch to ensure colour consistency. Sika added further value with an impressive 17 visits to the site by the Applications Team to advice and support.

Brendan McNulty, Delomac Roofing, described the challenges the team faced during the project: “Installation methods and curved roof areas required our operatives to work from harness and rope access. We developed an innovative material loading trolley with the builder to deliver materials to the work sections safely, without compromising finishes.

“Workmanship standards remained exceptionally high, despite the challenging logistics, and met the client requirement of consistent lap and detail arrangement. This was also helped by the quality of the Sarnafil membranes. The finished installation has transformed the internal and external appearance of the building. Rooflights and white soffit finished decking have provided a bright and airy environment, with the external green finish blending subtly with the landscape.

“Most importantly, safe, unlimited guest access to the pool, restaurants and meeting areas was maintained throughout the entire project; something we’re very proud of.”

For more information please visit

A popular Scunthorpe supermarket has recently benefited from a complete roof refurbishment using a Sika Liquid Plastics Built-Up Roof waterproofing system. The Asda store had to remain open throughout the project, requiring expert planning by Northampton-based contractor Ice Roofing.

The building, originally constructed in 1976, was suffering from water ingress and the roof was in urgent need of repair. To ensure that the store could remain trading throughout the project, the client required a cold applied waterproofing option. Managed by Uplands Retail Ltd, the contract involved a tight timescale to refurbish several of the supermarket’s large roof areas, totalling 2000sq m.

Ice Roofing, a Sika Liquid Plastics Quality Assured contractor, already had a good reputation with Asda thanks to a number of previous jobs and were the obvious choice for the job.

Gareth Davies, Ice Roofing, explained: “We knew that our partnership with Sika Liquid Plastics would give us the advantage of additional expertise when specifying a product for the project.

“The team at Sika conducted a detailed survey, including thermal imaging using the latest technology, allowing us to see where the real problem patches where. This enabled us to reduce the area of roof we would have to completely strip back to the steel deck, which was really significant in keeping disruption to a minimum.”

A further challenge presented itself when asbestos was found in areas of the felt that needed to be stripped away. Ice Roofing brought in the experts to remove the existing substrate containing asbestos, while maintaining the integrity of the store’s waterproofing and complying with strict HSE standards.

Completed in just 10 weeks, two teams of three first increased the height of the roof by increasing the insulation thickness around various complex details. Sika Liquid Plastics’ Decothane Gamma 20 roof coating system in Slate Grey was then applied over the entire roof area. The cold applied, zero flame, zero heat Built-Up Roof system allowed the store to remain operational throughout the works; a key benefit for the local community.

A mineralised walkway was also installed to enable ease of access for future maintenance work.

Gareth added: “We worked fast and smart to deliver a seamless finish on the roof, with the liquid system offering ease of application around plant and penetrations. The superior 20-year guarantee, signed off by Sika Liquid Plastics when works were completed, sealed the deal for the client.”

Decothane is available in the UK from Sika Liquid Plastics. For further information visit or call the inquiry line on 0800 112 3826.

The National Gallery and the Science Museum – two of London’s major and iconic visitor attractions – have benefitted from a planned roof maintenance programme, using Sika Sarnafil membranes and specialist contractor, Delomac Roofing.

Working with the National Gallery since 1995, a programme of roof replacement and thermal upgrading has seen in excess of 12,000sq m of Sika Sarnafil membranes installed, together with insulation, roof lights and walkways in a series of over 30 completed projects – including the complete Sainsbury Wing in 2008.

Working closely with the client and architect, specifications have been delivered using the Sika Sarnafil Partner Supply Chain to ensure watertight and long lasting protection to the priceless works of art on display.

At the Science Museum, ageing and poorly insulated roof coverings were targeted for upgrade and replacement in a series of tender awards, all successfully won by Delomac and Sika Sarnafil.

Brendan McNulty said: “With the impact of rising utility costs, effective thermal upgrades were completed with the roof works, delivering tangible cost savings.”

The Science Museum’s Flight Gallery houses many historic planes, including a Spitfire, a prototype Harrier and a cut cross section form a Jumbo Jet. Visitors were able to safely enjoy these exhibits without disruption while these important roof works were completed close by.

At both sites, environmental and whole life cost considerations were key in material specification – with a target to reduce energy use.

Equally, the lightweight membranes and considered planned specifications allowed system overlays with an entirely flame-free cold application, ensuring minimal internal disturbance to visitor experience.

“As with all London sites – particularly with huge public visitor numbers, logistical issues were challenging; but the advantage of a unified supply chain with out of hours early deliveries ensured zero risk to arriving footfall.”

“The roof refurbishments on both buildings have been designed to an exceptionally high standard. Our effective installation, backed by Sika Sarnafil’s robust guarantees ensure the client has peace of mind for years to come.” Brendan added.

For more information on Sika Sarnafil’s products and services, call 01707 358500, email or visit

Seventy-seven projects have been selected to receive £3 million coastal revival funding.

Blackpool’s iconic Winter Gardens is one of 77 projects whose future is looking much brighter thanks to £3 million government funding, Communities Minister Brandon Lewis said today (11 December 2015).

Mr Lewis said the coastal revival funding will help secure these key seaside attractions “for generations to come”.

Ranging from theatres to piers and lidos to lighthouses, the projects will each receive grants of up to £50,000 to kick-start restoration work.

They are also set to attract £30 million in private and public investment and could support up to 1,500 jobs.

Prime Minister David Cameron said “Britain’s coastline is part of what makes us one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Our coastal towns are cherished not just by the people who live within them but by the nation as a whole. The value of our tourism industry also means they are playing a crucial role in the UK’s continuing economic recovery.”

“That’s why I am proud to lead a government which is absolutely committed to supporting and reviving our coastal communities.”

“With a total £3 million pledged for coastal projects today, it is clear we have an optimistic and ambitious approach to Britain’s seaside towns. We are providing a catalyst for further investment and securing treasured community assets for generations to come.”

Communities Minister Brandon Lewis added “From Berwick to St Ives, our coastal communities boast some iconic attractions, with millions visiting them each year.”

“But some of our best-loved buildings are falling into a state of disrepair – the £3 million Coastal Revival Fund aims to restore them to their former glory.”

“This funding will now kick-start the restoration work for these 77 projects across the country, so they can continue to be enjoyed by local people and tourists alike for generations to come.”

Driving regeneration in seaside towns

The government is committed to reviving our seaside towns, so they can diversify their economy, attract investment and secure their long-term future.

Since 2012, over £120 million has been invested in coastal towns through the Coastal Communities Fund, which is helping local people regenerate cherished seaside areas.

Earlier this year, the government announced 118 Coastal Community Teams, to encourage local businesses, councils and voluntary groups to work together to create a long-term strategy for their community.

Today’s £3 million Coastal Revival Fund forms part of these wider efforts, and will help communities to start the work to bring back into use buildings which have suffered years of disrepair.

Projects set to benefit from the funding include:

  • restoring the walls of the Pavilion Theatre, Blackpool within the Grade II* Winter Gardens building
  • plans to revive Grange over sands Lido Renaissance the 1930s derelict Art Deco saltwater lido
  • regenerating Madeira Drive on Brighton seafront
  • plans to regenerate the unique Art Deco saltwater lido in Shoalstone Pool, Brixham so it can become a top class tourist destination
  • plans to restore Tynemouth Outdoor Pool and create a leisure facility on the beach restoring and reopening Paignton picture house – a Grade II listed cinema as an independent community led cinema
  • re-development of the Edwardian bathing facilities east of Tinside Lido including adding new ‘pop-up’ shops in alcoves
  • repairs to Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis to preserve this unique much-loved 19th Century seaside theatre from imminent collapse
  • restoration of the iconic lighthouse in Spurn, Kingston-upon-Hull so it can open to the public
  • the regeneration of Redoubt fortress in Eastbourne including repairs to the moat wall and gun carriage and the creation of a maze for visitors
  • the renovation of Whitby West Pier Lighthouse which will mean it can open for public access
  • conserving 2 of Gravesham’s coastal heritage assets – New Tavern Fort and the remains of the Henry VIII Blockhouse to support it becoming a visitor destination