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Lambeth Palace ‘at risk of catastrophic failure’ say Commissioners

15 July 2021

‘Green’ refurbishment project expected to cost millions of pounds


Aerial view of Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Aerial view of Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury

LAMBETH PALACE, parts of which date from the 15th century, is facing a “catastrophic failure” of its ageing services, the Church Commissioners have said.

They have launched a refurbishment project, expected to cost millions of pounds, for the Grade I listed building to ensure that it continues to play its part as a centre of mission and the official London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“As with many buildings of its status and heritage, Lambeth Palace is in urgent need of substantial repairs to bring its heating, electrics, and plumbing up to modern standards,” a spokesperson for the Commissioners said. “As things stand, there is a high risk of a catastrophic failure of these systems which causes irreparable damage to the fabric of the building and the art and furniture it contains.”

The last “upgrade’ of Lambeth Palace’s infrastructure was in the first half of the last century, although some repairs to bomb damage from the Second World War were made in the 1950s.

The repair programme will provide an opportunity to introduce green technologies. “The Church of England’s General Synod has set new targets for all parts of the Church to work to become carbon ‘net zero’ by 2030,” the spokesperson said. “Underscoring this project is a commitment to achieve a zero-carbon outcome. It will commit to a ‘fabric-first’ approach in which upgrading the historic building fabric is prioritised, reducing the energy required to heat and cool internal spaces.”

Plan of Lambeth Palace showing areas for initial works

At the heart of the project is an “energy centre” which will enable a move away from current reliance on fossil fuel. It will include an air source heat pump and wind-powered energy generator. Solar panels could also be used. Ultimately, the entire Palace will be served by the centre.

The work will take up to three years to complete, and is being financed as part of the Commissioners’ established three-year budget process.

The executive director of the Conservation Foundation and the environmental adviser to the Archbishops’ Council, David Shreeve, said that the building was “in a bit of a quandary, as not only is it a corporate headquarters, but it is also a protected building which is difficult to mess around with. I am sure there are some bits where, in another situation, people might just knock them down and put up a new extension, but you can’t do that with a palace.”

In 2005, he helped Imperial College students to organise an environmental audit of Lambeth Palace, which was actively supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Lord Williams, and his wife, Jane. “I assume a lot went on as a result of that. The students said that on the whole the staff had good environmental intentions and some positive steps had already been taken. Even back then, when staff went home, they switched off their computers.

“At that time, there were an awful lot of old-fashioned light bulbs, and these will have been changed. The Guardroom has some very ornate chandeliers, and they have so many bulbs. When people come in, they always exclaim: ‘How much does that cost?’ but I know they have been altered.

“They did observe that Lambeth Palace was in a unique position, with the Archbishop being able to talk about these things on an international stage and to encourage the rest of the Church to take notice of environmental issues. Lambeth was able to be an exemplar to the whole of the Church.”

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