HL Deb 07 March 1995 vol 562 cc113-6

2.47 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the operation of the new traffic arrangements at the Queen Victoria Memorial opposite Buckingham Palace.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor)

My Lords, yes.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. However, he must be one of the few people who are so satisfied. He should try asking one or two London taxi drivers for their opinion. Will my noble friend confirm that the experiment is to be reviewed after a six-month period? Why, then, does the work look so permanent? Can the Minister assure me that, if the scheme is as unpopular in six months' time as it now is, it will be scrapped and matters will return to normal?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the new traffic arrangements have been in place for six weeks and are generally working well. There should be an improvement once the construction works are complete. That is scheduled for early April. At present road widths are reduced, temporary traffic lights are in operation, and construction vehicles are on site. However, when those are cleared away, we believe that traffic should move easily through the area. My noble friend is absolutely right. The approval which Westminster City Council gave included a condition requiring a traffic survey to be carried out within six months of completion of the scheme. We intend to do that and review the arrangements after six months.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, it is reputed that Her Majesty herself has expressed concern about the new traffic arrangements. Will the noble Viscount tell me whether Westminster City Council undertook its proper statutory duty of consulting the Queen as a resident of that area?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am happy to tell the noble Lord that Her Majesty the Queen was consulted about the plans to pedestrianise the area in front of Buckingham Palace. We have recently been monitoring the traffic at each of the junctions. We have no evidence of lengthy delays occurring. The maximum waiting time for one change of lights is 65 seconds. Even if a motorist has to wait for two or three changes of lights—that is not generally the norm even during the rush hour—the delay would be just over three minutes. I realise that some noble Lords may have had to wait slightly longer. However, the worst build up of traffic has generally occurred when guard changes are taking place and the horse guards pass through the area. But that was the case previously, before the recent arrangements.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that when the six months have elapsed, due consideration is given to all those who in exasperation have written or telephoned concerning the difficulty they have experienced in reaching your Lordships' House via the Palace?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we shall obviously take account of all views. However, there are supporters for the changes which, I remind your Lordships, follow a recommendation by the Royal Parks Review Group, chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, in May 1993. The alterations are part of a scheme to provide better segregation of traffic and pedestrians and safe crossing facilities for pedestrians at each junction. There have been over 60 accidents to individuals over the past three years near the Queen Victoria Memorial. We must ensure that this important area of London is not an accident black spot.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his original Answer indicates that he never travels along that route? Is he further aware that those of us who have to do so regularly consider that there has been a great deterioration in traffic conditions since the changes were introduced?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I travel by that route every morning on the way to work. I must point out that the arrangements arc not finalised; they are temporary. The roadway is narrower than it will be when finished. We must wait for the full work to be completed and then consider how it is working.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance to the House that the next time his driver takes him around the area he puts his newspaper down and looks at what is happening? Will he convey to his right honourable friend that on all sides of the House there is great anxiety about the matter? Simply to say that the arrangements are generally working well is completely contrary to the opinions of the overwhelming majority, not just of those in this House but of all users of the area. The sooner it gets back to what it was the better.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the scheme was drawn up following wide-ranging consultations with bodies which included English Heritage, Westminster City Council, the traffic director for London, the police and the Army. Planning approval was given by the council. I appreciate your Lordships' anxieties and merely point out that the works are not yet completed. It is a site; it is not the final plan. I reiterate that we shall review the traffic arrangements within six months of the work being completed. I can give that assurance to your Lordships' House.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, will the mess he cleared away by 17th June, when the Trooping the Colour takes place?

Viscount Astor

Yes, my Lords, the work will be completed by April.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the pedestrianisation of the area immediately outside Buckingham Palace is not part of a secret agenda on the part of the Royal Parks Agency for the whole of the St. James's Park area to become pedestrianised? That would in effect create a theme park in which tourists would reign supreme.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I can confirm that there is no secret agenda. Indeed, there have been wide-ranging consultations. There have been a number of serious accidents in the area and it is important that we get the pedestrian crossings right so that tourists who come to this country are not mown down, least of all by some noble Lords on their way to your Lordships' House!

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can the Minister give the estimated total cost of the undertaking?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the estimated costs are £2.4 million, including fees and VAT. In addition to the new pedestrian area in front of the palace, the scheme involves replacing crash barriers with bollards and railings, repairs to the balustrade wall, reinstatement of the terraced walk, re-landscaping of the memorial gardens, and new permanent flagpoles.