HL Deb 25 November 1997 vol 583 cc866-8

3.9 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What encouragement they are giving to proposals for pedestrianisation in city centres in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the decision to pedestrianise areas of city and town centres is a matter for individual local authorities rather than central government. The Government welcome the improved safety, convenience and environmental benefits a well-designed scheme can bring to local communities. Government advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 6 encourages local authorities to give greater priority to pedestrians, including pedestrianisation in town centres. Detailed advice has also been given on planning, design and legal implications in Local Transport Note 1/87,Getting the Balance Right.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. While such plans deserve general encouragement, has she visited some cities abroad where pedestrianisation has made the centres no-go areas for disabled people who are dependent on wheels? Will efforts be made to ensure access for vehicles for those who cannot do without them because the publicity and reports seldom mention that factor?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I have visited very few places since 1st May. However, the point the noble Lord makes as regards access for disabled people is very important. In the local planning guidance note we make very clear that the key to a successful scheme is that it achieves a sound balance between all users and that the authorities ensure reasonable access for disabled people. In fact, a well designed scheme can provide benefit for disabled people by reducing their exposure to traffic and extending their mobility.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, has the Minister had time to visit the exhibition next door on the pedestrianisation proposals for Old Palace Yard and Trafalgar Square? I do not know whether any other noble Lords have had time to visit it as well. Does the Minister agree that if the scheme is implemented it will provide a much better environment for pedestrians, for tourists and for those of us who work in the area, and a much enhanced opportunity to view the wonderful buildings there? Does she agree that the key to a successful scheme is the restriction of most traffic except buses and, in some cases, taxis, as proposed?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I have indeed visited the exhibition. I know that other noble Lords have done so. There has been some lively debate about the two proposed schemes. I believe that the World Squares Initiative is very exciting; it could do a great deal to improve the central and historic areas of London which at the moment suffer from congestion and pollution. However, it is important, as in all pedestrianisation schemes, to get the balance right. That is why Westminster City Council, which is taking the lead in this area, is inviting comment and undertaking the consultation process.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that a proper scheme for pedestrianisation must include a supporting part played by private vehicles and public transport?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I have made clear the importance of achieving a balance and of making sure that there are no unintended consequences of pedestrianisation. That can happen in ill-designed schemes, resulting, for example, in town centres that are empty at night or not available for people who need to use them. I believe that public transport is central to maintaining access to town centres.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I recognise that arrangements for the pedestrianisation of Parliament Square are matters for the local authority. However, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a particular reason for both Houses of Parliament considering this matter and making sure that access to Parliament, especially for the disabled, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is not denied? Is there any way in which the Government, without impinging on the prerogative of the local authority, can ensure that taxi drivers in particular are consulted about proper access for the disabled so that they can reach both Houses of Parliament?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. While it is the responsibility of local authorities, the World Squares Initiative is being led by Westminster City Council. The client group involved includes the Government Office for London, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, English Heritage, London Transport and others. So we have very much taken on board that this issue is not simply a matter for one local authority. The senior officials of the Parliamentary Works Group sit on the steering group for the world squares study. The steering group is well aware of the needs and concerns of the House both in terms of access for Members and particularly the needs of disabled Members.

Forward to