First round to pedestrians in square fight

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Plans to pedestrianise parts of London's Trafalgar and Parliament Squares move closer today with the announcement that a feasibility study is to receive funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Consultants are to be appointed next month to look at options for the area, all of which are based on the premise that more space will be given over to pedestrians. Previous plans to pedestrianise the squares have been rejected by Westminster Council, but now government ministers are pushing hard to see a change in the environment around London's key tourist areas.

John Gummer, the Environment Secretary, has been holding a series of meetings with a group of organisations including Westminster Council, English Heritage, the Royal Parks and London Transport, as well as government departments, and they have all agreed to contribute towards the cost of the report. Lottery funding will provide half the cost of the pounds 250,000 consultants' report which will take a year to carry out. Six consultants are making presentations to the council on 12 November.

Mr Gummer, who has been the main force behind the scheme, said: "It's time we gave these two great squares back to the people." The most likely schemes are to pedestrianise the north side of Trafalgar Square, next to the National Gallery, which would create a continuous pedestrian zone between Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square, and to pedestrianise the south side of Parliament Square. The study will also investigate how to speed up bus journeys in the area and improve pedestrian access around Westminster and Charing Cross stations, and the new Hungerford footbridge.

Other road closures may be considered - Westminster is already narrowing the Strand to reduce the amount of traffic in the area.

Malcolm Haxby, associate director of planning at Westminster Council said: "In the past, schemes have foundered on the problems of worries about increased traffic jams. "Now we are looking at it the other way round. We're going to say, here's a good scheme, let's implement it, and then sort out what to do with the cars."