Royal Family advised to give up the Palace

Long-term plans to turn Buckingham Palace over to the nation are being discussed in some Royal circles.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Plans for the Royal Family to quit Buckingham Palace and hand it to the nation as the "People's Palace" have been under active consideration by some royal advisers for the past year, The Independent has been told by authoritative sources. The overwhelming public reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, has given the proposal fresh impetus.

Spokesmen for both the Palace and the Government have categorically stated that there is no question of the Queen leaving the Palace. A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "This is not under consideration here."

But The Independent has been told that there is a longer-term modernisation programme under consideration for the succession of Prince Charles, or his son, Prince William.

The full package of Blair-style plans for a "New Monarchy" modernisation strategy has not even been hinted at, but the proposal for Buckingham Palace to be turned over to the nation gives a flavour of the bold thinking that is going on among some royal advisers. They want the monarchy to become less aloof, more open, and more in touch with the people. One of their greatest problems is the stiffness of Prince Charles who, unlike his former wife, finds physical contact difficult.

Certainly, the "nationalisation" of the Palace, which would be opened to visitors all year round, would be a popular money-spinner. The opening of the Palace state rooms - to raise funds for the refurbishment of Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire - has shown the strength of public interest.

Sources close to the Royal Family say it would not be an "insurmountable" problem to carry out changes to the monarchy's living arrangements. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh much prefer Windsor to Buckingham Palace, and make the 30-mile journey there most weekends when they are staying in London.

The Prince of Wales has "expressed no great desire" to move into the Palace if he became King. Other members of the Royal Family with apartments at Buckingham Palace are the Princess Royal, the Duke of York, and Prince Edward. It is possible for London homes to be found for them at St James's or Kensington palaces.

Royal sources emphasise that there is no intention of "selling off" the Palace. There are around 400 staff working there, and they need not be affected by any proposed changes. The Palace could continue to be the administrative centre for the Royal Household, while the historic state rooms, with all their treasures, could be opened up to the public all year round.

A variation on the plan would have involved opening up part of the Palace all year. But this has been deemed to be impractical and an infringement on the privacy of the Royal Family. Some courtiers believe it would be a mistake for the Royal Family not to keep the Palace as the monarchy's symbolic home in the nation's capital. They also point out that it is needed during state visits.

The counter-argument said to have been used against this in royal circles is that some spare apartments can be kept at the Palace, and visiting dignitaries can be put up at the other palaces. Windsor has been used in the past.

The Palace proudly pointed out in June that the estimated pounds 36m cost of the restoration of the fire-damaged area of Windsor Castle, due for completion ahead of schedule in November, has not required one additional penny of government funding. A report said: "Seventy per cent of the cost will be met from visitor admissions to the state rooms at Buckingham Palace and the precincts of Windsor Castle and 30 per cent from savings in the grant-in-aid."

The grant-in-aid, the public contribution, for the occupied Royal Palaces was pounds 19.6m in the year to April; a reduction of almost one-third in real terms, after inflation, since 1991.

But an opening-up of the Palace could provide a healthy profit - cutting the costs of upkeep for the other palaces: St James's, Clarence House, Kensington Palace, and Windsor Castle.

Buckingham Palace maintenance costs were pounds 5,110,000 last year, with a further pounds 1,811,000 going on the Palace Mews and gardens. About pounds 20m has been raised from visitor contributions over the last four years - with pounds 9,486,000 last year alone. That makes Buckingham Palace a "going concern", and a potential gold-mine if it was to be fully opened up to feed the infinite public interest in all things royal.