Traffic makes Buckingham Palace 'national disgrace': Steve Boggan looks at proposals for a pedestrian zone at a leading heritage site

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The Independent Online
TOURISTS 'risk life and limb' when they visit Buckingham Palace because its setting has become a national disgrace, a report published yesterday claims.

Recommending that an area outside the palace be pedestrianised, the Government-sponsored Royal Parks Review Group says visitors to the Changing of the Guard endure chaotic conditions and are forced to dodge traffic in order to view the nation's prime heritage attraction.

The group, whose report on St James's Park, Regent's Park, Green Park and Primrose Hill, all in central London, will be considered by Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, also calls for the establishment of a Royal parks promenade linking together four of London's most popular open spaces in a two-hour walk.

In a wide-ranging and sometimes strongly worded examination of the Royal parks, the group says the setting of Buckingham Palace and the way traffic and tourists are managed is shameful.

'No-one who lives and works in London can fail to be aware of the really appalling conditions in what is the centre of London's tourist business,' Dame Jennifer Jenkins, the group's chairwoman, said. 'It is made worse by the fact that if you drive around, there is a whole host of what were 'temporary' barricades which have been there for 10 years.'

The group found that in the past three years there had been 60 accidents between the Queen Victoria Memorial and the Palace gates, which acts as a roundabout for traffic at the end of The Mall. They propose blocking that off and creating a Y- shaped junction instead.

The group also recommends banning parking from Horse Guards Parade and restoring it as a public open space. About 400 cars, mainly owned by civil servants, are parked there each day. Dame Jennifer pointed out that discouraging use of private cars in London was government policy.

Other recommendations include extending the Sunday closing of The Mall and Constitution Hill to Saturdays and other days during the summer, cutting parking along The Mall and banning it in Green Park.

The group's most imaginative proposal involves creating a Royal parks walk linking St James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent's Park. This would involve establishing a clearly signposted route and, where the walk crosses roads, introducing pedestrian crossings, particularly across the busy Hyde Park Corner.

Dame Jennifer said the main concern about Regent's Park related to its management. It is run as a number of separate entities, with London Zoo, Regent's College and Crown Estates managing their own 'enclaves' without a unified landscaping policy. The group recommends the establishment of a single body to manage the whole of the park.

The group says it is concerned about the water quality of lakes, particularly in St James's, where it says Canada and greylag geese have eroded the lakeside bank. Dame Jennifer said culling would have to start as a matter of urgency. 'Culling of deer for the health of the whole herd is acceptable in Richmond Park,' she said. 'This is the same principle.'

The report also proposes an architectural competition to redesign the bridge and Cake House in St James's and the Ritz Corner in Green Park.

The review group was appointed in 1991 by Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for the Environment, to report on Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The remit was extended to the four Royal parks examined in the report, but no decision has been made by the Secretary of State for National Heritage - to whom it now reports - on whether it will move on to look at the remaining parks, Richmond and Bushy parks in south-west London, and Greenwich park in south-east London.

If accepted, all the group's recommendations would be in place by 2000, but the proposals relating to Buckingham Palace would be implemented first. The public will be invited to comment on the proposals at an open meeting in Regent's College, Regent's Park, on 18 May.

The plan's main points:

Banning traffic from the space between Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial.

Restoring Horse Guards Parade to a public open space instead of a car park. Extending Sunday closure to traffic of The Mall and Constitution Hill to Saturdays and midsummer days. Restricting parking.

Creating a seven-mile royal parks promenade linking Green Park, St James's Park, Hyde Park and Regent's Park.

Creating a single body to take over management of Regent's Park from disparate groups.

Improving water quality in lakes and culling geese population.

(Photographs omitted)