London's historic Royal parks will become a national disgrace, trapped in a downward spiral of dereliction and decay, unless the Government introduces dramatic new measures to finance and improve them, according to a damning report published yesterday.
The Royal Parks Review Group urged the Department of National Heritage to champion its fight against "financial cheese-paring" and "quick-fix" solutions, and to "stand fast on behalf of the millions of people for whom the parks are a source of beauty and wonder and an essential safety valve to the pressures of London life".
Spending on London's eight Royal parks for 1996-97 was cut by 6.5 per cent - from pounds 24.7m to pounds 23.2m - in last year's Budget, with further cuts proposed for the next two years, to pounds 22.2m and pounds 22.7m. Job losses in the Royal Parks Constabulary may follow, and the reduced policing may mean increased crime the Group warned.
"The Royal Parks Agency is expected to run its domain for less than, for example, some individual national museums," said Dame Jennifer Jenkins, chairing the Group. "The parks should not be seen as a drain on resources but as an essential investment in London as a world city.
"For years, the parks have not had enough money to continue the general maintenance - buildings, roads, lakes and railings. There has not been enough money to keep buildings' roofs and gutters in good condition, and the interiors have fallen into disrepair."
Following a five-year review, the Group highlighted traffic as one of the chief threats to the 5,000 acres of parkland. "Cars have invaded these oases of tranquillity," said Dame Jennifer. "You see these rings of steel and smell the pollution."
A spokesman for the Department of National Heritage said: "The department is the champion of the Royal Parks' cause, otherwise they wouldn't be receiving pounds 23 million, would they?"