The Houses of Parliament is being tested for a form of crumbling concrete that has already caused the closure of more than 100 schools.
Surveyors are on the parliamentary estate looking for reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac), which is a lightweight building material used from the 1950s up to the mid-1990s, but is now assessed to be at risk of collapse.
The presence of the material in schools has caused an escalating crisis for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after last week’s announcement that 104 of them would have to close. A number of theatres announced on Tuesday they would shut and the National Theatre said it found Raac in a number of its backstage areas.
A source told Bloomberg, who first reported the story, that tests were still ongoing, but they were not able to say if Raac had yet been detected.
If Raac is found it would add to the considerable problems at the ailing parliamentary estate, which is urgently in need of essential repairs such as the removal of asbestos, reducing the fire risk, renewing plumbing, and conservation of the building itself.
It is estimated that any work to the Grade I listed building could take between 46 and 76 years and have a price tag between £11-22 billion if it takes place during parliamentary recesses.
In other developments today, unrepentant education secretary Gillian Keegan told school chiefs who have not responded to a survey about crumbling concrete to “get off their backsides” and inform the government if they are affected.
Keegan said she hoped all the “publicity” around Raac in buildings will make the responsible bodies for schools fill out the government’s questionnaire on the matter by the end of this week. Ms Keegan has been criticised for shifting the blame onto schools during the concrete crisis, with one union leader describing the remarks as “outrageous”.
She railed against those who had “sat on their arse and done nothing” in a sweary outburst on Monday, said 5% of schools, or the bodies responsible for them, had still not responded to a questionnaire sent out by the Department for Education (DfE) about Raac on their sites.
She told Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 on Tuesday: “Now hopefully all this publicity will make them get off their backsides. But what I would like them to do is to respond because I want to be the Secretary of State that knows exactly in every school where there is Raac and takes action.”
Headteachers have been scrambling to find temporary teaching spaces ahead of the new academic year, while others have been forced to replace face-to-face lessons with remote learning.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is the Education Secretary’s second display of petulance in consecutive days – albeit on this occasion without the swear words attached – and isn’t very helpful.
“Schools have been expected to identify Raac even though this is a specialist field and are unlikely to have staff who are experts in this area.
“They have received minimal help from the Department for Education which will have known which schools have not returned surveys for several months and which has had ample time to reach out to them. The Education Secretary would do better to provide support, rather than blame.”