Car park in a courtyard to be a riverside art gallery

David Lister@davidlister1
Tuesday 18 June 1996 23:02

Cars parked by Inland Revenue staff are to be banned from one of London's premier cultural sites, as part of the process of turning it into a riverside art gallery and courtyard for tourists.

The decision urged on the Government by Lord Rothschild, chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, marks a victory for the long-running Independent campaign to free key areas of cultural importance from parked cars and open them up for tourists and other visitors to walk through.

The Chambers courtyard off the Strand, in central London, borders the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Courtauld Galleries - with its famous impressionist collection - and Somerset House, which at present is home to the Inland Revenue and the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The courtyard, designed by the 18th-century architect Sir William Chambers, was one of the focal points of the Independent campaign to have parked cars removed from cultural spaces; but Inland Revenue staff were reluctant to move. However, by the end of the year they will be forced to park elsewhere or use public transport.

The Government has agreed that the Lord Chancellor's department will move from the river-fronting south block of Somerset House, and the building will be turned into a new art gallery to house the pounds 75m Gilbert Collection of silver, gold, micro-mosaics and gold boxes. The river terrace will transform the building, currently housing divorce courts, into one of Britain's most prestigious art spaces.

The move to allow visitors to wander through the courtyard area also signals a new will. Lord Rothschild said: "I fervently hope that through the Heritage Lottery Fund some of the hidden historic open spaces in London become available for the public's enjoyment, in line with the Independent campaign. The Heritage Lottery Fund is able to ensure that cars will no longer be parked in the Great Quadrangle so that this great and long neglected urban open space can once again be enjoyed by the public."

The Heritage Lottery Fund, which Lord Rothschild chairs, has agreed to offer a grant of pounds 15.5m to help refurbish and fit out the Terrace Building as well as putting up funds to endow the Gilbert Collection.

The Independent campaign to remove parked cars from important cultural locations also targetted London's Royal Academy, off Picadilly. The RA has also agreed that cars should be removed from its frontage.

Other targets of the campaign were the forecourt of the British Museum, and Horse Guards Parade - venue for the Trooping Of The Colour where civil servants' cars are parked.

Neither of these two sites has yet been cleared for pedestrians.

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