by Edward Malnick and Whitehall Editor, The Telegraph, October 16, 2017
Parliamentary authorities ruled out allowing Big Ben's clock to chime at evenings and weekends because it would have involved mechanics working overtime.
Emails seen by The Telegraph show that officials conceded it would be "straightforward" to activate the bell when builders left the site each day while the landmark is renovated.
But the arrangement would mean "a minimum of 2-3 hours" for the clock's mechanics which "might well not be sustainable" over several months, they concluded.
The disclosures follow a public outcry in August after it emerged that the famous clock would fall silent for four years in order to protect the hearing of builders renovating the famous tower.
This weekend a Commons spokesman confirmed that a subsequent review of the "health and safety case" for stopping the chimes had "endorsed the arguments for the existing arrangements", under which the clock will remain silent.
It will, however, ring on specific occasions such as Remembrance Sunday, Christmas and New Year.
The decision to silence the clock led to demands for the bell to ring when builders are off site - such as in the evenings, early mornings and at weekends.
But according to correspondence obtained by this newspaper, officials decided against such a move because of concerns about the overtime work that would be required by clock mechanics in order to switch the bell off in the morning and then on again when the builders left each afternoon.
A week before the public announcement on August 14, a senior official wrote to David Natzler, the Clerk of the House of Commons, stating: "You are right that the process of switching the bells off, without lowering the weights, is in itself straightforward and does not take that long. The concerns are about the logistics of doing this twice a day until the point when we have to definitively turn the bells off ... (expected to be at the start of January 2018)."
He added: "The Clock Mechanics' standard working hours are typically 0700 - 1500, so we would require a minimum of 2-3 hours of overtime from a member of the (very small) team each day.
In practice the requirement would probably be higher, as work on the project starts from 0700 and can continue until 1800 on a typical day, and involves not just the scaffolders but other trades working on site from September onwards.
"This level of overtime by the Clock Mechanics might well not be sustainable over a four and a half month period."
The official also noted concerns by the contractors about "the potential for delays to the project" if a clock mechanic arrived late or failed to turn up to switch off the bell on any morning.
"Emergency out of hours attendance by the contractor is possible during the project (at night, weekends)," he added.
"There is a risk that urgent work on the scaffold could be delayed while a Clock Mechanic was alerted and then travelled to the site."
The official continued that the view of the Commons media team was that "unless we can give a clear response to the question of 'when will the bells ring?', the offer of continued 'part-time' chiming is unlikely to help us much."
"The media team also note that whether the bells are stopped entirely, or for part of the day, isn't likely to change the media response to the story: it will receive enormous amounts of coverage in either case."
A Parliamentary spokesman said: “The chimes have been stopped to provide a safe environment for the people working on the tower and to maximise efficient working.
"The Clerk of the House has also reviewed the health and safety case for stopping the chimes and that review has endorsed the arguments for the existing arrangements.
"As has always been planned, Big Ben will still chime for important national occasions. We will shortly announce the schedule for sounding the bells over the Remembrance Sunday weekend and the Christmas/New Year period.”
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