£370m repair work to ensure Buckingham Palace is 'fit for purpose'
Buckingham Palace is to undergo a major 10-year refurbishment, costing nearly £370 million, to avoid the risk of "catastrophic building failure" at the Queen's main residence.
The refit, described by officials as "essential", will include replacing boilers, and miles of cables, pipes and electrical wires.
But there was some disquiet at Westminster over the scale of spending at a time of public service cuts, with one MP saying the money would be better spent on hospitals or houses in the North of England.
A review by the Royal Trustees - Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Keeper of the Privy Purse Sir Alan Reid - agreed that the £369 million works should be funded from a 66% increase in the Sovereign Grant. The grant, which covers the monarch's official duties, will be raised between 2017 and 2027 from 15% to 25% of Crown Estate profits, which are paid to the Treasury and last year amounted to £304 million.
By phasing work over 10 years from April 2017, the 17th-century palace will be able to remain open to visitors and the monarch in residence throughout. Significant national events like the Changing Of The Guard, Trooping The Colour and garden parties will continue.
Officials said the works - designed to keep the palace "fit for purpose" for half a century - were intended to prevent the danger of fire, flood or damage to the historic building and its priceless art collection. A fire on the scale of the 1992 Windsor Castle blaze in a single wing of the central London palace could cost as much as £250 million, said the Treasury.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke pledged ministers would hold the Royal Household to account to ensure that "every penny spent achieves the greatest value for money".
The Deputy Keeper of the Privy Purse Mike Stevens, who is accounting officer for the renovations, described the plan as the "most cost-effective way to fund this essential project, by synchronising the release of funds with the phased approach to carrying out the physical works".
The Master of The Queen's Household Tony Johnstone-Burt said the refurbishment would ensure the palace is "fit for purpose" until 2067.
He said: "We are convinced that, by making this investment in Buckingham Palace now, we can avert a much more costly and potentially catastrophic building failure in the years to come."
The upgrade is expected to deliver £3.4 million in benefits each year by permitting longer summer opening hours, more private tours and savings, and is also forecast to reduce the palace's carbon footprint by 40%.
The Queen spends around a third of the year hosting garden parties, receptions, investitures and other events at her official home, which was first used as a royal palace by Queen Victoria and has not been redecorated since 1952.
Mr Gauke said: "Tourists are drawn to this country because of our culture, heritage and royal legacy, and when they visit they spend billions of pounds and support thousands of jobs.
"We must ensure that the special architectural and historic nature of some of our greatest buildings are protected for future generations; therefore it is only right we ensure Buckingham Palace is fit for purpose.
"These urgent works have been properly costed and will ensure the palace can continue its centuries-long tradition of being the working house of our monarch. We will ensure every penny spent achieves the greatest value for money."
But Labour's MP for Stockton North, Alex Cunningham, said: "Month in month out, we see money poured into these big projects in the south of England, whether it's the Palace of Westminster or Buckingham Palace or the HS2 rail link, and the North East never seems to get a look-in.
"In my constituency in the North East we lost a new hospital which was cancelled when the coalition government came in. This money would pay for that hospital or for thousands of new homes in Stockton."
Mr Cunningham added: "I have always respected the fact that we have a royal family, but I know they also have vast wealth and I don't know what sort of contributions they will be making towards this project."
Scottish National Party MP Paul Monaghan said it was "incredible" that the Government was ready to spend such large sums on Buckingham Palace at a time when it was seeking to cut the number of Scotland's MPs from 59 to 53, in part to save money.
The announcement comes at a time when MPs are considering a £4 billion plan for renovations and repairs at the Palace of Westminster.
Graham Smith, of anti-monarchy campaign Republic, described the spending on Buckingham Palace as an "absolute disgrace" and said the building should be turned into a people's museum.
"MPs have repeatedly called on the palace to fund repairs by opening up to tourists all year round and they've refused," said Mr Smith.
"The obvious question is, why have the royals let it get into this state? Why haven't they raised revenue through opening up all year round? If the royals can't look after the buildings and raise their own revenue to fund maintenance it's time to give them up."