UK lawmakers debate leaving aging Parliament

LONDON (AP) — This is not a metaphor: Britain’s Parliament is a mess.

The 19th-century building is crumbling, leaky, infested with vermin and riddled with asbestos. Fixing it will take years and cost billions, but experts say the alternative could be catastrophic.

After years of dithering, lawmakers are set to vote Wednesday on what to do, and there’s a good chance they will opt for more delay.

“This debate arguably should have taken place about 40 years ago,” House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told lawmakers, adding that the building “is in dire need of repair.”

Legislators will vote on several options, from agreeing to move out for repairs by the mid-2020s to deferring a decision for several more years.

Experts have issued increasingly urgent warnings about the state of the neo-Gothic Parliament building, one of London’s most famous landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Reports have sounded alarm bells about leaky roofs, temperamental steam heating, antiquated plumbing, crumbling stonework and ventilation shafts clogged with old pipes, wires and asbestos.

A 2016 report commissioned by parliamentary authorities said the building is at risk of a flood or fire that could leave it uninhabitable. It advised members of the House of Commons and House of Lords to move out for six years for renovations, estimated to cost about 3.5 billion pounds ($5 billion).

Caroline Shenton, former director of the parliamentary archives and author of “The Day Parliament Burned Down,” said that without major repair work, Britain could lose “the most iconic, famous building in the country.”

“It could just simply be a utilities failure that brings the whole thing to a halt — the electricity goes, the water stops working, the loos stop flushing,” she said. “But something more catastrophic could happen.”

David Leakey, who retired last year as Parliament’s head of security, has said that without major work Parliament could be “another Grenfell Tower” — the London high-rise that burned down last year, killing 70 people.

Despite the warnings, lawmakers have put off making a decision.