Royal parks `sliding into shabbiness and decay'

Nicholas Schoon reviews a plan for Greenwich to be turned into `a new Versailles'
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Indy Politics
London's royal parks are being short-changed by the Government and "allowed to slide quietly into shabbiness and decay", according to a panel of experts appointed by ministers.

The Royal Parks Review Group yesterday criticised the Government for reneging on its commitment to increase spending on the capital's nine principal parks.

At the same time, it called for simple, inexpensive changes at Greenwich Park which would create London's most magnificent public walk.

Dame Jennifer Jenkins, who chairs the group, said the Department of National Heritage had reversed its 1993 commitment to increase funding for the royal parks. Since then it has twice decided to cut future spending and its latest plan is for funding to fall by one-fifth between 1991 and 1997.

The result will be collapsing drains, increasingly pot-holed roads and decrepit walls and buildings, according to the group's latest report published yesterday. Backlogs and essential maintenance works are building up leading to damage which will eventually be far more costly to repair.

"An extra £2m on a budget of £24m would make all the difference," Dame Jennifer, who is a former chairwoman of the National Trust, said.

The bulk of the report is concerned with Greenwich Park, which the group views as the London equivalent of Versailles, near Paris - if only it could be made to fulfil its potential.

The main recommendation is for the public to be allowed to walk all the way through the park's arrow-straight central spine and beyond, down to the river Thames, through Christopher Wren's Royal Naval College. "At present, few visitors are aware of this grand vista, as dramatic as any in Paris," the report said. It boasts buildings by Inigo Jones, Wren and Hawksmoor set beside a steeply sloping parkland landscape.

At one end of the mile-long line is the Victoria spire of All Saints Church at Blackheath. The line passes close by the Royal Observatory through the hilltop statue of General Wolfe from which the meandering Thames and most of London can be seen. Then it goes down the hillside, passing through the Queen's House, an elegant 17th-century palace, between the two domed buildings of the Royal Naval College and then a few dozen paces more down to the Thames.

The 12-member review group, made up of councillors, architects and landscape and urban planning experts, calls for a new landing stage for tourist boats which come down the Thames to Greenwich.

It says there should be a new pedestrian crossing or an elegant footbridge across the busy Trafalgar Road leading to a new entrance into the grounds of the National Maritime Museum. Then continuing on the line of the axis, people should be able to walk from the museum grounds into Greenwich Park.

"Since the whole site is controlled through Whitehall departments, agencies and public bodies, the Government is in a position to open up the axis and transform people's experience of Greenwich," says the group, which wants the route to be completed by the millennium.

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