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Urgent challenge

Fire risks

Flaws in the original designs of the Palace mean it is at particular risk of damage from fire.

The growing risk of fire

Despite remedial work, fire safety systems throughout the Palace are antiquated. Fire safety officers are now required to patrol the building 24 hours a day. The devastating fire at Notre Dame in 2019 was a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance and the need to protect the world’s most historic buildings.

When the Palace was rebuilt after the 1834 fire, Charles Barry used brick, stone and iron instead of wood to counter the risk of another blaze. He also used innovative technology to install cast iron roofs. But when it came to the magnificent interiors, Barry and Augustus Pugin used vast quantities of combustible materials.

There are also thousands of hidden, empty voids in the Palace which were originally built into the fabric of the building in the 19th century to create one of the world’s first air-conditioning systems. Today these voids represent a major fire risk and have created ideal conditions for smoke and fire to spread quickly up through the building.

Lack of fire compartmentation

The Palace also lacks proper fire compartmentation, one of the measures recommended for all Royal Palaces after the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992. Compartmentation between floors and walls would slow the spread of fire between sections of the building. At the moment, in the event of a fire, everyone would have to be evacuated at the same time.

Risks to the architectural heritage

Due to the rigorous active fire management in place, life is not at risk in the Palace, and it is safe to work in and to visit. In the event of a fire, people within the building would be able to evacuate safely. However, it is likely that the precious architectural heritage within the Palace would be irreparably damaged if a fire were to occur.