Scottish university to aid major Westminster restoration project


EXPERTS from Heriot-Watt University have been brought on board to help protect those working on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.

The building is currently at risk of damage from fire or flood, both of which could be caused by a failure in the ‘complex’ network of ‘outdated’ heating, drainage, gas and electric systems.

Thousands of contractors are expected to work on the Westminster project, with the university warning that traditional site risks may be amplified due to the ‘complex’ nature of the works at the ‘congested’ heritage site.

As a result, the learning institute has been awarded £75,000 in funding to develop ‘industry-leading’ construction approaches to safeguard both the building itself and those working on the project.

The work is to be led by Professor Guy Walker, of the university’s school of energy, geoscience, infrastructure and society. He explained, “The Palace of Westminster couldn’t be further from a new-build project where everything can be tightly controlled and specified, including the people working on site. Instead, there will be a high reliance on skill and the ability of construction teams to adapt to changing circumstances.

“We want to create  an environment where the most natural behaviour is also the safest and most efficient.  With technology we can rehearse construction activities in safety.  Designers, engineers and  construction worker s can sit together in a room and use a digital platform to run scenario tests. We can rehearse ways to work better as construction teams and deal with inevitable unexpected problems.”

Over the first six months, the team has worked alongside the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority to prioritise areas and projects where Heriot-Watt’s expertise in the sociotechnical approach and enabling technologies can help design safer work. In the next few months, Professor Walker and his colleagues intend to focus on delivering initial work packages.

Heriot-Watt added that it is looking to work with partners in the construction industry on existing projects to further develop their methods before they are finalised for the restoration project in London.

Dr Gillian Murray, deputy principal of business and enterprise at Heriot-Watt University, commented,  “This exciting project will allow us to upscale our frontier research in smart construction, to open up new collaboration opportunities with industry and contribute to a learning legacy including new digital skills, CPD and best practice.

“The partnership is grounded on the university’s Strategy 2025 values and our mission to create and exchange knowledge that benefits society and will deliver impact in two of our strategic themes, Pioneering in Education and Excellence in Research and Enterprise.”

David Goldstone, CEO at the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority, added, “As we get on with the job of developing the plan to restore and renew Parliament, it is critical that we create the safest environment for future construction work by working with experts across the UK as part of our commitment to support thousands of jobs.”