Capital shows its potential before daily car invasion: Pictures lend weight to 'Independent' campaign against intrusive parking. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
LONDON early on a sunny morning at the height of the tourist season: and some of the capital's most important historic and cultural spaces are already filling up with civil service cars.

These pictures were taken from a 'flying eye' traffic-monitoring aircraft this week to illustrate the potential highlighted by the Independent campaign to free historic forecourts and public spaces of parked cars.

The two-pronged campaign to remove staff cars and to encourage more Continental-style pavement cafes in London and other cities has shown how the country's most senior civil servants continue to park in Horse Guards Parade, despite attempts by the National Heritage Department to remove them and open up the venue of Trooping the Colour to pedestrians.

Leaked correspondence showed a concerted effort by civil servants at 10 Downing Street and some Cabinet ministers to block the department's initiative.

The main picture shows how the cars on the parade ground block the vista between Whitehall and St James's Park.

The campaign also highlighted the British Museum, whose magnificent forecourt is almost entirely given over to staff cars, with security men guarding the main gates so that only staff cars can be driven through it. The 7 million visitors a year have to use adjacent entrances.

This picture, taken before the cars had arrived, shows the extent of the forecourt that could be used for visitors to sit out, and for displays of art and sculpture.

A similar situation is evident in the 18th-century forecourt to Somerset House by the Thames, where the forecourt to the Courtauld Institute Galleries, now home to an internationally acclaimed exhibition of Impressionists and post-Impressionists, is given over to cars belonging to staff at the adjoining Inland Revenue headquarters.

Here it looks that the campaign to remove the cars could now succeed. The Earl of Arran, junior minister at the Department of the Environment, has written to Lord Hylton, a supporter of the campaign, saying: 'Thank you for your letter about improving the public spaces outside London's cultural and historic buildings.

'I too had noticed David Lister's interesting ideas on the subject in the Independent. There are of course practical difficulties to be considered but I am sure . . . we should be encouraging action where we can to rid important public areas of cars and bring them to life with cafes and places to sit and enjoy the scene.

'Within my own responsibilities in this department, I am pursuing the possibility of opening up Somerset House to public use, including removing civil servants' cars from the courtyard to allow greater public access.'

The Royal Academy has also responded, promising that parked cars will be removed from its courtyard by Burlington House in Piccadilly by the end of the year.

(Photograph omitted)