HC Deb 25 January 1993 vol 217 cc697-8
6. Mr. Jessel

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to maintain and improve the character of royal parks in outer London.

Mr. Key

The Department is committed to maintaining and restoring the royal parks to the highest standards of excellence. A new next steps agency responsible for all the royal parks will be created on 1 April.

Mr. Jessel

Does my hon. Friend accept that, while the royal parks are national, Bushey park and Hampton Court park are cherished as local parks by my constituents in Teddington and all the Hamptons? They, and I, insist that the trees, the grass, the deer, the birds, the gardens and the open space are all protected. They do not want any large events, car parks or other so-called improvements.

Mr. Key

I acknowledge the enthusiasm with which my hon. Friend always embraces his constituents' concerns. Of course, the finest parks in the world are to be found in Greater London, in the form of the royal parks. I am delighted to say that relations with the Friends of Bushey Park are very good, and I know that people care deeply about such details as whether the park gates are open on time in the mornings: we have sought to put such things right.

In Bushey park, we have a programme completely to restore the chestnut avenue over two years. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently planted the first new tree. The management of Bushey park will stay with the park's agency.

Mr. Raynsford

Does not the Minister recognise that, when the Government proposed the privatisation of the management of the royal parks, they did so in the face of the almost united opposition of all who knew about, were concerned about and cared for those parks? It is not a question of improvement; the parks are well maintained, and have been in the past. Does the Minister recognise the anger and concern that are now felt about a possible fall in standards as a result of cost-cutting, and the introduction of management practices that have already led to many staff members' losing their jobs in Greenwich and other royal parks?

Mr. Key

The hon. Gentleman wants it all ways. The fact is that the controversy—which was perfectly genuine—has been resolved very happily. Most of the societies and community groups in the park areas are now working closely with us and with the new agency, and standards have undoubtedly improved.

In my opinion, the parks have not been looked after that well for half a century. That is precisely why we have increased the amount to be spent on them over the next few years, and why Greenwich park, for instance—a park which I personally have known for a number of years—is already being improved, and will continue to be improved.