Academy to banish cars in favour of art: David Lister finds support is growing for the Independent's campaign on pavement cafes

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THE Royal Academy's splendid forecourt off London's Piccadilly is to be cleared of cars and given over to public art and eventually cafe-style tables, as the Independent's campaign to improve public spaces around cultural institutions gathers force.

With many readers showing their support for the campaign for more pavement cafes in our cities and for cars to be removed from forecourts of institutions such as the British Museum and Royal Academy, Piers Rodgers, secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts, has responded with a promise that this key space in London will be improved this year.

Mr Rodgers said: 'A million visitors a year are forced to pick their way through a car park to reach our front door. For years we have been unhappy about the situation, but the courtyard is Crown property and we were powerless to do much about it.

'At last things are beginning to move. By the end of the year, with the support of the Learned Societies (such as Antiquaries) who occupy the neighbouring buildings, we should be able to clear the centre of the courtyard, and, in the long term, develop a 'space for art' and for public enjoyment all the way from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens (where the building occupied by the Museum of Mankind is soon to be vacated). By all means let us have seats and tables and coffee and ice cream.'

This year, the RA, which already serves ice cream from beneath its portico in summer, will be arranging a family weekend with street entertainers, musicians and a traditional steam merry-go-round on 25 and 26 June, fine art book fairs in July, and a Venetian masked ball to celebrate the Glory Of Venice exhibition on 18 June.

Meanwhile, the British Museum, whose magnificent forecourt is blocked by cars, has yet to make a full response to the Independent's campaign, though staff are understood to support the idea of removing cars and using the space for the tourists and other visitors to sit at cafes, perhaps surrounded by sculpture and other public art.

Neither has the Inland Revenue agreed yet to remove staff cars from the forecourt shared by the Courtauld Institute galleries off Strand. And civil service cars still block Horse Guards Parade in defiance of a recommendation to government by an expert committee.

Readers continue to offer suggestions for the pavement cafes campaign. Lewis Leizou, from London, says: 'Large supermarkets and giant superstores housed in bland, box- like buildings surrounded by huge, grim car parks, designed with little regard to quality of life for the city-dweller - would not these be ideal sites for pavement cafes?'

Davina Thackara, also from London, suggests that institutions such as the British Museum should do as is done outside major galleries in Florence and display replicas of some of the great pieces from the museum collection.

Lesley Hampson, from Oxford, says: 'I have lived in Europe for five years and miss greatly the cafe society I enjoyed there. I just wish (Oxford) could provide more places to just sit and watch the world go by without being overcome by traffic fumes. What other country with such a gem of a city as Oxford would overlook such amenities?'

(Photograph omitted)