Out-of-bounds Britain: `Knock down the Palace walls and let the people in'

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The Independent Online
THE WALLS of Buckingham Palace should be pulled down and the gardens opened up to the public, according to a leading British architect. The 10-foot- high boundary circling the Queen's London home is "one of the most extraordinary pieces of urban nonsense".

Terry Farrell, designer of the MI6 building overlooking the river Thames at Vauxhall, is to present his views to the Royal Institute of British Architects as part of a manifesto for opening up "out-of-bounds" London to the public.

The Buckingham Palace plan is part of a larger vision which involves creating a continuous belt of greenery stretching for two-and-a-half miles from Trafalgar Square in the east to Kensington in the west. Walls and fences around two other Royal palaces on the route - St James's Palace and Kensington Palace - would also be pulled down to fill in the gaps between St James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

By building new pedestrian crossings, cafes and shops along the route, Mr Farrell aims to create a grand pedestrian boulevard to rival Barcelona's Ramblas.

He is calling for Buckingham Palace's mile-long wall, with its distinctive silver spikes, to be demolished for good. "It de- presses the urban scene in central London," he said.

Another leading designer has backed the idea. Sir Terence Conran said: "There's a huge garden that gets no use at all. If we created a more egalitarian Royal Family, we could start by opening up the gardens. Does the Royal Family need all that space? Its upkeep costs the taxpayer a vast amount of money."

According to Mr Conran, the Royal Family is not fond of its London estates and hardly uses the gardens, preferring rural hideaways such as Windsor, Balmoral and Highgrove. "We know that neither the Queen nor Prince Philip likes Buckingham Palace very much," he said.

A report from the London Natural History Society recently found its 40-acre gardens to be the richest habitat for wildlife in London, with 325 plant species and 30 types of breeding birds. The gardens were historically connected to St James's Park. But the area was walled off to provide a private garden.

Mr Farrell's plan would be to re-unite the gardens with the park. "My proposal is to prick the defensive bubble and open the palaces and parks up to each other again," he said. "These parks and palaces are the very urban forms that distinguish London from any other city. No other city has its great palaces linked with parkland in this way.

"I am doing drawings to show a `Great British Ramblas' from The Mall, up Constitution Hill, across Hyde Park Corner through the great Wellington Arch and along Rotten Row to Kensington Palace," he said. The scheme, he believes, would cost practically nothing, because revenue from retail outlets would fund the improvement works.

Up to four-fifths of the space within the palaces would become galleries, concert halls, museums and conference facilities. The Royals would be confined to the remaining one-fifth.

Mr Farrell insists he is not a republican. He feels, however, that there has not been enough clamour for greater access to the palaces and their environs. "It's not the fault of the Royals," he said. "It's the fault of the people for not demanding more."

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said the public were allowed into the palace and gardens during the summer, but admitted they must pay pounds 10.50. "There are no plans to open the gardens to the public," he said. "The Queen is in residence here. If this gentleman has an idea he wants to put forward, he should write to the Queen."