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$460M Repair Bill for Buckingham Palace Triggers Monarchy Debate in Britain

  • Henry Ridgwell

Buckingham Palace in London, the main residence of Queen Elizabeth, is in desperate need of renovation. The work will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and the government plans to use taxpayer money. That decision has triggered an angry response from critics, who say the monarchy should pay its own bills at a time of national austerity.

The daily Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace draws thousands of tourists, who scramble and strain to get the best photograph of the iconic building and maybe even a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth herself.

From the outside, the roughly 300-year-old palace looks fit for the world’s longest serving monarch.

But behind the facade, palace officials say it is falling apart. The boilers are more than 30 years old, and the estimated 160 kilometers of electric cables were installed in the 1960s. The pipework is made of lead and cast iron. All of it needs replacing, at an estimated cost of around half a billion dollars.

The British government has approved the use of public money. But many lawmakers, like the Scottish National Party’s Paul Monaghan, question why the people should pay.

“Estimates suggest that the total net value of the monarchy is about 84 billion U.S. dollars," he said. "The personal wealth of the queen is about 650 million U.S. dollars. So I think that it should be the monarchy, not the people.”

FILE - Tourists gather around Buckingham Palace in London, May 19, 2016.

FILE - Tourists gather around Buckingham Palace in London, May 19, 2016.

The government argues the upkeep of Buckingham Palace is vital to Britain itself.

Visiting heads of state are usually given a full ceremonial welcome here by the queen. Earlier this month, she hosted Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.

Buckingham Palace also draws hundreds of thousands of tourists. Many visitors told VOA they were surprised to hear of the problems at the palace.

“Given austerity measures going throughout the country, I would say that putting that on taxpayers and the people is tough,” one man said.

“I feel like it should definitely come from both sides," said another tourist. "As far as the government paying it, I feel like in return it gets a lot. Tourists are going to come and it is something that tourists are always going to want to come and see.”

The work will be done in stages, so the Queen will not have to move out. And with 775 rooms, there should be somewhere for her to escape the construction noise.

Officials say if the planned work goes ahead, the palace won't need another renovation until 2067. By that time Prince William, second in line to the throne, would be 85 years old.

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