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A repair job fit for a Queen

When it comes to fitting insulation, fixing boilers, mending pipes and replacing old wiring, there are plumbers, electricians and other tradespersons carrying out such work every day. But one upcoming job will be rather different.

A large home in London has not had its pipes, heating or electrical systems overhauled for decades. Not, in fact, since the Second World War, when it was hit seven times, including when a Dornier 17 dropped a bomb that destroyed its chapel in 1940.

"Now we can look the eastenders in the eye," was the response to this incident of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for the house in question is Buckingham Palace and the lack of any upgrades to its internal workings for over 70 years has left it at increasing risk of fires and water damage. After Windsor Castle went up in smoke in 2001, that is clearly an eventuality the royals and the government - though perhaps not staunch republicans - will want to avoid.

As a result, ministers have approved a £369 million refurbishment job at the Palace, which will be carried out over ten years. This timescale will enable the Queen and other members of the royal household to continue living there, while the Palace itself will be able to go on functioning as a venue for major occasions of state and other ceremonial functions. It will also remain open to the public at certain times of the year.

It will mean old pipes, wiring, boilers and cables being replaced, while no doubt a lot of old insulation will have to be removed to get to these, before new cladding and more modern materials will be put in place.

The Palace and the rest of the royal estate essentially belongs to the nation, with the monarch holding them in trust. That means it is the duty of Parliament to pay for repairs and upkeep.

Commenting on the money being spent, chief secretary to the Treasury David Gawke said: "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."

The best way to do this, of course, will be to ensure the best and most modern materials are used, so that it will be several more decades before the exercise will need to be repeated. Moreover, if the building is refitted in the most energy-efficient way, the heating costs will be kept down. While the royals will never have to worry about fuel poverty, it would be nice to think that many years from now, when Prince George is waving from the balcony after another royal wedding, the Palace's systems will still be functioning well.

Creating value for money as well as being green is something that can apply in any household. The average home may not have 775 rooms, but a properly functioning boiler and good insulation will ensure excellent energy performance.

While the royals may have plenty of cash, that has not left them immune from criticism. In 2014, a House of Commons Treasury Select Committee report declared: "The Queen has not been served well by the Household and by the Treasury, which is responsible for effective scrutiny of the Household’s financial planning and management." 

Among the failings was the way many buildings in the royal estate had not been kept in good shape, with a 2012 audit finding 39 per cent of them were in unacceptable states of repair.

Clearly, Buckingham Palace needs plenty of work, but the results may be a very energy-efficient home fit for a Queen.