§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Blaker rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the cost of converting Kensington Gardens to a memorial park for the late Diana, Princess of Wales, will be met from public funds if the proposal is proceeded with.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad that so many noble Lords are proposing to speak in this debate on a subject which is of great interest and concern to many people. I favour a memorial to Princess Diana but I believe that the proposals which were put forward by the memorial committee in the summer of this year are misguided and unacceptable. The memorial committee met again on 20th October and, according to newspaper reports, it has had second thoughts. But we do not know precisely what its thoughts are because, as I understand it, it took no decision and issued no statement. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will be able to shed some light on the present position.
§ We are dealing with a site of outstanding heritage importance. It is listed Grade I in the English Heritage register of parks and gardens of special historic interest. The proposals made by the committee in the summer involved major changes to these gardens, which at present are basically parkland with grass and trees. For the areas south of the palace, the committee proposed the planting of flowers, shrubs and trees and the creation of a woodland wilderness next to Kensington Road and a new gateway from that road; this in an area which at the moment is largely given over to children kicking footballs about. In the Round Pond, it proposed the creation of a very tall jet of water, somewhat modelled, I believe, on Chatsworth. That would have the effect of spoiling the activities of those who sail model boats on the pond, those who fly kites around it and those who picnic around it in fine weather and it would certainly upset the water fowl, not least the water fowl which nest on the rafts of the pond. To the north of the palace the committee proposed a minimum of three new planted gardens and public park and sculpture. So the committee proposed substantial changes in all those three areas.
§ There was a public consultation in the summer. That, in my view, was inadequate and badly handled, but it did involve an attempt to deliver a pamphlet and questionnaire to 150,000 addresses in the area of London near the gardens. The result of that consultation 81 was quite clearly massive opposition from those people to whom the literature was addressed. There has been strong opposition from the local councils involved, from the two MPs concerned and from a meeting of more than 1,000 people held in Kensington Town Hall in June on a wet night when there was a tube strike. There has been opposition from the 13 residents' associations in the area which have formed the Princess Diana Memorial Liaison Group.
The grounds for opposition, as I see them, are the following. The first, and most important, is traffic congestion. I have before me a letter from Mr. Paul Burns, the chief executive of Keith Prowse International, a firm of many years' experience which will be well known to noble Lords. Mr. Burns says that Keith Prowse, which has offices all over the world, has been approached by many tour operators looking for a focal point from which they could launch tours in connection with the memory of Princess Diana. Because it is now believed that there will be a focal point, people are displaying much more interest in setting up such tours. In his letter Mr. Burns says:
We would have serious concerns at the likely outcome of the establishment of a Memorial Garden within Kensington Gardens. We believe that such a Memorial Garden would generate very substantial volumes of visitors into an area which, in our opinion, does not have the necessary infrastructure to cope with the likely influx. Nor do we believe it would be possible to develop an adequate infrastructure within the surrounding area".
Mr. Burns has told me personally that if the memorial gardens are created as proposed, then every coach operator in London who is arranging tours would concentrate starting or ending a tour at the gardens, or at least including in it such memorial gardens.
The second ground of objection is that I believe the proposals are inconsistent with the current patterns of use of the gardens. The principles recommended by the Royal Parks Agency, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces to the Memorial Committee included the following words as principles to be observed:
Current patterns of use of the Palace, the gardens and the pond area should be respected".
Moreover, Jennifer Jenkins, who is a former chairman of the Royal Parks Review Group, said in an article in the Evening Standard on 16th July:
What the document"—
that is, the consultation document—
fails to address is the current use of the west part of Kensington Gardens. That is lying on the grass, kicking a ball about, eating sandwiches. Every fine evening, every weekend, the area is full of people doing that. Formal gardens are against that".
The third ground of objection is that I believe the proposals are based on a false logic. The former butler of Princess Diana has said that she used to go out in the gardens both walking and running in the early morning and that she loved the gardens. If she loved them, she loved them as they are. We do not know what she would have thought if faced with the proposals which have been put forward by the memorial committee. I believe that the people who visit the gardens would like to see them as they used to be when Princess Diana was alive.
§ As regards the meeting of the committee on 20th October, I understand, although I may be wrong, that the proposals it is now likely to consider involve reducing the cost from £10 million to £3 million, with the £3 million to be spread across three proposals. That means £1 million for each project. The first proposal is for a walking route from Kensington Gardens to St. James's Park. The second is for the enlargement of the playground and its enhancement with facilities for the disabled. I believe that those two proposals could be acceptable if sensitively arranged.
§ However, the third proposal is for remedial work in the gardens. That seems to me to be desirable if the work really is remedial—that is, for the replacement of trees which have died or the improvement of the drainage on the paths. But it would not be acceptable if, in practice, it involves the creation of new avenues of trees. If such remedial work is desirable—and I believe that it is—why should it not be done by the Royal Parks Agency out of its budget? If it is done out of the budget of the memorial committee there will be a great temptation to call the gardens the Princess Diana Memorial Gardens. I return to the point made by Keith Prowse. I believe that the latter would be disastrous in terms of causing congestion.
The terms of reference of the committee include the following words:
The Committee will have regard to the charities and causes which the Princess supported".
Did she support a single garden charity? Indeed, I have not heard of one. However, we do know that she supported many children's charities. That is why I believe that the idea of the Princess Diana Memorial Action Group is a good one. The latter has given great thought to the matter and has suggested treating the improved playground in Kensington Gardens, which I understand is now under contemplation, as a model for a series of improved playgrounds across the country with facilities for the disabled. It would be a suitable follow-up to the public playing fields which were created in memory of George V and are remembered now.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for tabling this Unstarred Question. If I may say so, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord said. I agree that there should be a suitable memorial of some kind for a much admired and greatly loved Princess, but the present plans, with their intrusive nature, are not suitable for Kensington Gardens.
The proposal for a large formal garden to the south of Kensington Palace, extending right down to Kensington Road, would destroy the view of the palace and the whole parkland in this area. I understand the inspiration for this idea comes from the original garden designed for William III in 1691. But this had only a short life as it was replaced in 1727 for George II by the present 18th century open parkland which, with the Round Pond, still survives. In those days, the Palace and its park were out in the country. Kensington was a small village nestling round St. Mary Abbots. Kensington Square to the south, 83 which was built to house members of the court and still survives—I am glad to say; indeed, it is a very beautiful square—was surrounded by fields. Today, the gardens are a precious green space in an extremely busy urban area.
As the noble Lord said, the proposed memorial garden would attract thousands of tourists. Particularly affected would be the adjacent west entrance to the gardens from Church Street and across Palace Green, which has hardly changed since the days when I used to be taken through there as a child when we lived on Campden Hill, and it still retains its semi-rural aspect. Where is it proposed that the dozens of tourist coaches should park? Will these form a solid line right up Kensington Palace Gardens, to the considerable inconvenience of the embassies there and many Kensingtonians? Alternatively, are these coaches to park in beautiful Holland Street and thereabouts which is a residential and conservation area? As the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said, I understand that there is to be a fountain in the Round Pond. The noble Lord did not mention height, but I believe that it will be 300 feet high. Again, that is totally out of character and would make this stretch of water impossible for the children's model boats. The proposal for the peaceful flower walk (which used to be called the baby walk in my youth) to be made into a memorial walk will mean that it will be used by great bands of tourists and its peace and quiet destroyed.
These proposals have caused much opposition from the people who live and work around the park and depend upon it for their fresh air, exercise and recreation. I understand these deep feelings and declare an interest as I resided in Kensington for the first 40 years of my life and still live near the park in Westminster. Notwithstanding the apparent attempt to push the plans through during last July and early August, the holiday period, 15,000 questionnaires were returned, the large majority being hostile. A nationwide opinion poll found that 79 per cent. would prefer the money to be spent on playgrounds, which the noble Lord mentioned, with only 16 per cent. in favour of the garden plan.
The Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster councils and the local MPs are all opposed to the scheme. Although the councils cannot block it, as this is a Royal park, I understand that a public inquiry will be called for if the Government insist on going ahead in the face of public opinion. It would be much better, I suggest, to spend the money on improving the children's playground already to the north of the Palace and on a chain of memorial playgrounds throughout the country, particularly in the most deprived areas of our inner cities. This would surely be more appropriate and more in keeping with the late Princess Diana's charitable work and her ideals.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, in this brief debate we are discussing a proposal to make a major change to one of the jewels of the nation's capital. I suggest that no other capital city has London's wealth of parks, squares and 84 tree-lined streets. This makes London one of the world's most attractive capital cities. At its heart is a necklace of parks linking the great buildings of state at either end: Whitehall Palace linked to St. James's Palace, linked to Buckingham Palace by St. James's Park. That pearl is linked to Green Park, Green Park is linked to Hyde Park, and finally to Kensington Gardens with Wren's great palace. It is unique and indeed I am surprised that this complex, taken as a whole, is not already a world heritage site. After all, Parliament Square is a world heritage site.
However, be that as it may, I suggest we need to be extremely careful about making a major change to this jewel. Hasty decisions made in the heat of an emotional moment may not stand the test of time. In this hugely sensitive case—sensitive because of the weight of emotion on the one hand and the international importance of the site on the other—a long gestation is, I believe, crucial. A gestation of several years would, I think, be appropriate. We have to get it right for the long term. That is the first point I wish to make. In doing so I should also confess—like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—to being a regular user of the park and gardens over at least 30 years. Indeed when Parliament is sitting I journey along that great necklace every day from one end to the other.
Reference has been made to various views. I was particularly impressed by the views—as reported in the press—of the Kensington Society. I am not a member of that society but what contacts I have had with it and with those who officiate in its affairs suggest that both the organisation and the people who run it have great responsibility and authority. They are in a reasoned way completely against the proposals. I think we should take their views seriously. That is the second point I wish to make.
I referred earlier to the need for a long pause before making a major decision. Equally important is the process itself. For example, I welcomed the announcement in the summer that there would be public consultation. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, referred to that. He was critical of the way it was handled and so am I. It seemed to me to leave much to be desired. For example, I thought the questions in the leaflet were perhaps a little tendentious. Moreover, its distribution appeared to have been somewhat erratic. Apparently some local citizens received no leaflets whereas I could easily have filled in dozens of copies which were lying around. I am told that a party of Japanese tourists dutifully filled in the questionnaire. Perhaps that was no bad thing although it is rather important to know who you have consulted.
Nor, I am afraid to say, did I find the exhibition alongside the Albert Memorial much help in fully understanding what was proposed. It seemed to me mostly to consist of blown up pieces from the leaflet. However ill conducted the consultation was, I would be intrigued to know what the results were. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned figures, and perhaps those could be confirmed. No doubt the Minister will do so. A piece in The Times—which I think has been 85 referred to—states that the vote, if one can call it that, was overwhelmingly against. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.
As regards the proposals, in so far as we know what they are, I shall make four observations. First, I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, about the traffic problem. In my view the park has already reached carrying capacity and there really is not room for any more capacity, except out of season. Secondly, the idea for a garden between the Palace and Kensington Gore is—as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said—not a good one. As he said, the area is much used, especially in spring and summer, for strolling, sitting and picnicking and by children playing. It is important not to lose these activities of quiet enjoyment. It would be wrong to take away from ordinary people these much enjoyed rights.
Thirdly, it is proposed that there should be some sort of screen of trees or bushes shutting off the proposed gardens from the street. That is most insensitive. The view up from Kensington Gore to Wren's splendid façade is one of London's finest eye-catching views. However, the proposal would in effect abolish it. Fourthly, there is a proposal for what I would describe as a large jet d'eau à la Geneva—the other example, I believe, was that of Chatsworth—which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said will be 300 feet high. I have often found the location a rather windy spot. That would result in much spray downwind—wherever that may land—which, as has been said, would put a much enjoyed, old and admired activity of boat sailing out of action. That has been mentioned. I am not even sure whether a fountain 300 feet high would not do some mischief as regards kite flying.
I have mentioned four specific objections; there has been reference to others. The fact that I have not mentioned those other objections does not mean that I do not agree with them. I take no position on the case for a memorial but if there is to be one on the lines of a garden or open space I suggest it should be situated in a place that is crying out for such a thing, and the emphasis should be on young people.
Finally, perhaps the noble Lord can tell the House whether any consultations have taken place with the Royal Fine Art Commission. If it appears that these proposals are likely to go ahead, the opinion of that eminent body would be all important.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ The Earl of Kinnoull
My Lords, I rise to congratulate my noble friend Lord Blaker on introducing this debate tonight on the proposal for a memorial garden close to Kensington Gardens. I believe that the debate is timely. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, welcomes it as it gives him a chance to say what is happening in this regard.
I should perhaps declare a small interest in that I am a resident in Kensington and Chelsea, although not directly in such a salubrious area as the park. I believe that my noble friend put forward a persuasive and cogent case for the memorial committee to do a complete re-think on where it should be going. I am sure that would give it valuable time with regard to what is, 86 and what should be, a most creative, imaginative and fitting memorial, and not one which starts off life in a bed of turmoil and even public anger.
My main purpose in taking part in the debate is not only to reinforce what my noble friend has said on the serious planning issues that would arise from a large memorial site close to Kensington Palace, but also to ask the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, why there has been so little public consultation with the local authority, particularly as regards the heritage department which I believe is the host department.
The original 20-acre proposal—I assume it now has been dropped, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will state that firmly—has been described to me as a very special area for many young families and an area with a high density of flats. Therefore it is particularly unattractive to them to find that such a lovely, tranquil area could be destroyed. It is no wonder that when one speaks to the chief executive of the borough council, as my noble friend said, following a public meeting of 1,000 people and a local questionnaire to all ratepayers, one finds that the proposal received a thundering "no".
I do not deny that the work of the memorial committee is not a bed of roses. However, the committee could improve its image with more openness. That would be enormously helped if the host government department would issue clear statements as to what is going on, and not merely leave it to the media to pick up reports so that the public and ourselves receive possibly inaccurate information.
In such a situation as this, where there is an attempt to choose an important public site for a memorial, I am a fervent believer in the well-tested planning procedures of our country. If a decision is reached that people do not want, at least they feel that their view has been properly considered.
We know that Crown land, the Royal Parks, the Ministry of Defence and certain other departments, do not require planning permission. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will recall, in 1980 a government circular advised such departments, including Crown land, that they should always go through the process of consultation. That is a very important issue in this instance.
If the memorial committee is eventually to decide on a site close to Kensington Palace, I hope that tonight we shall receive confirmation that there will be a public inquiry, so that these important planning issues can be examined with great care. There is a strong feeling, not only among residents but also among planners, that this area simply could not cope with the impact of such a development. I hope that in future we shall also receive a proper statement from the department responsible for the memorial committee, which will avoid the feeling that closeted discussions go on when an issue of enormous public interest is debated.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I live in beautiful Battersea, so I have no interest to declare. I cannot believe that Princess Diana, who essentially reached out 87 into the grey and tawdry areas of life to bring light to them, would wish to see a beautiful part of London tinkered with rather than beautifying some less attractive area.
The most important reason why this proposal should not go ahead is that it is as undesirable to create a shrine to Princess Diana as it is desirable to have appropriate memorials to her.
§ 8.3 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, most noble Lords taking part in this debate must have suffered a bereavement at some time in their life, either someone close to them, someone in their own family, or in which they had some involvement even as a trustee. I have had that experience myself, and it is a fundamental necessity for time to pass in order to make sensible judgments which benefit all concerned. In the domestic and private area that is essential. When it is a public figure who has died and there are concerns in relation to proper and appropriate memorials, even more time is needed. I am following the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I understood him to say that we need much more time to consider what would be appropriate and what would achieve the right consensus.
I do not wish to enter into the details of what is likely to happen to the park under this scheme. That aspect was admirably dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, who introduced the debate, and by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and others. What has been obvious during this debate is the great degree of disagreement as to whether this particular scheme is appropriate, not only for those who live in the close vicinity of the park that is to be developed, but appropriate to the memory of the Princess.
The haste with which the scheme has so far been implemented—apart from being unsuitable in terms of the time needed in order to consider all aspects of it—is the way in which it runs absolutely counter to a number of aspects that are particular to the tragic death of Princess Diana. I refer to the enormous momentum that has arisen in media coverage. It has caused great distress to the family.
There may be great merits in this scheme. However, if it is handled badly and without proper consultation it will not only be a great pity for those who have to live with it, but cause enormous disruption in terms of argument and invective in the press, which will again make it difficult for the surviving family of the Princess. Her two young sons have already appealed for a slowing down and a time during which they are left free of press attention so far as possible. That has been agreed by the press and the other media—although some are sailing pretty close to the wind.
I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure us that we shall not go headlong into these projects regardless of the concerns voiced by noble Lords during this debate. It would be a pity if a scheme were to be put in place with which not only the residents disagreed but other elements in the country disagreed, including the family of the Princess. It would create an atmosphere 88 with which the Princess would not have wished to be associated during her life, even though she may have liked some aspects of the scheme.
Some very good suggestions have emerged from the debate. Particular mention was made of the Princess's love of young people. That is an outstanding reason why the present nature of the park should be left in place. It is a place where young people can run about and do as they wish; they can play with footballs, for instance, or lie in the sun. To jeopardise that would go directly counter to our memory of the wish that Princess Diana had for young people; namely, that they should enjoy life as much as possible.
This has been a useful short debate. I hope that the Government will take heed of the timely warnings that have arisen from this interesting Question. I hope that the press will also take note of what has been said. Right and proper concerns have been expressed for a new look and for new thoughts to take place in a rather more extended timetable.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend Lord Blaker for introducing this subject. I agree with much of what noble Lords have said this evening. It seems to me that a right and proper memorial to the life and work of Diana, Princess of Wales needs to fulfil several criteria. It needs to reflect the great feeling and respect felt by so many people for Her Royal Highness. It must somehow be available to be visited by those who do not want to go to Althorp, or who cannot do so, both Londoners and tourists. It needs to be something of which Her Royal Highness herself would have approved. For instance, she went into places that other people had not gone into before; and she deliberately sought out and succoured those with whom no one had bothered before. Perhaps her memorial should reflect that. Most importantly, unnecessary and harmful controversy must be avoided. What memorial can fulfil its purpose if its construction is accompanied by ill-will? Such would sour the commemoration of someone who managed to touch the life of the nation in an almost unprecedented way.
If the memorial is a playground, or a series of playgrounds, as has been suggested, it should be where there is no playground now and where there is palpably a need for one.
I understand that nothing is yet set in concrete. I have spoken to my noble friend Lady Chalker, who sits on the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Committee. She has told me of the immense number of suggestions made, and which are still being made, from all quarters. The committee will eventually decide on its favoured scheme and make a recommendation to the Government. Rumours, of which we have heard a great deal this evening, abound as to greater and lesser schemes in Kensington Gardens. I hope that, if such a scheme is finally agreed, it will take due account of the access problems raised and will be amicably agreed with all those residents who are justifiably concerned about their environment.
89 Like my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, I believe that it is too soon to come to any conclusions. Eventually, with good will, the right solution will emerge. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, this is the second time today that I have stood at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Treasury. The first occasion was the minor matter of the future of the global economy! I have to tell your Lordships that this second occasion is a good deal more difficult for me than the first one. That is not because I have not enjoyed and appreciated your Lordships' contributions, and not because I am not grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for bringing the matter to the attention of the House. But, as your Lordships are aware, the recommendations to the Government on this matter are made by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Committee, which, although set up by the Government following the undertaking by the Prime Minister after the death of the Princess of Wales, is an independent committee. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, referred to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. On the committee are also representatives of the Royal Household and of the Spencer family and Princess Diana's former butler. We do not have any control over what they do or say.
Before I give such answers as I can, I must explain to your Lordships that my difficulty is that the committee has not made up its mind, and has not made a public statement following its meeting on 20th October and has not published the results of the consultation process. When I am asked for the Government's position, as I have been on more than one occasion, I have to say that it is not the Government's position, it is the memorial committee's position, and the committee has not told us what its position is. My answers will therefore inevitably be less than satisfactory. I apologise for that, but there is nothing I can do about it.
The memorial committee has met regularly since January to consider more than 10,000 ideas, received from people of all walks of life, including school children, pensioners, voluntary organisations, local authorities, artists and professional bodies. Having considered the wide array of ideas put forward, the committee's preliminary advice, published in June, was that the Government should take forward proposals in four areas: first, community children's nursing teams supporting children with life-threatening or life-limiting diseases and their families; secondly, an award for young people at secondary school who make an outstanding contribution to the community; and, thirdly, subject to public consultation, a memorial garden in Kensington Gardens.
In addition, Her Majesty the Queen approved a recommendation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a commemorative crown piece should be issued next year in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. This is the fourth proposal to which I referred. Proceeds from the sale of this commemorative coin will go towards the cost of the other proposals recommended by the 90 memorial committee, including any changes agreed for Kensington Gardens. The literal answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, is that technically such expenditure scores as public expenditure, but, of course, the charge to the taxpayer is reduced by the amount raised by the commemorative coin for this and the other proposals.
In all these areas the relevant government departments are working out detailed proposals for further consideration by the memorial committee.
The committee met on 20th October to consider the progress of all four proposals. The discussion focused mainly on progress reports on proposals for community children's nursing teams and awards for young people at secondary schools. The memorial committee's recommendation for teams of community children's nurses across the UK caring for children with life-threatening and life-limiting diseases has received wide support, not only from the public, but also from the nursing profession, doctors and charities working in the field. For over 50 years it has been widely acknowledged that the best place for sick children is at home, surrounded by the people who love them. But the availability of care at home for these children has been limited and patchy. The proposal from the memorial committee would provide additional money for NHS-led teams to work with the voluntary bodies already active in this field of care.
An award each year in every secondary school in the United Kingdom for a young person who has made an outstanding contribution to the community will directly benefit and encourage young people, particularly disadvantaged young people in communities across the United Kingdom in ways which were inspired by the contribution of Diana, Princess of Wales. This recommendation, too, has received a great deal of support from bodies active in education, youth and the voluntary field. The Department for Education and Employment is currently tendering to find a body to administer the awards.
The committee briefly discussed the proposals for Kensington Gardens, but no decisions were made. The committee wishes to discuss these proposals further at its next meeting. I do not believe it would be pre-empting its discussions to say that the proposals are expected to be scaled-down in response to local concerns, but I am afraid that it is not possible for me to go into further detail, not least because I do not know any further detail. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, referred to the possibility of a £3 million scheme with three elements: a playground, a walkway and remedial treatment. I have no knowledge of such a scheme. He also made reference to the work being done under a memorial committee budget. There is no memorial committee budget. The expenditure, including net receipts from a commemorative coin, would be government expenditure. Spending by the Royal Parks Agency would be expected to be within the existing DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) spending plans.
Noble Lords have made reference to a network of playgrounds. I can confirm that the Princess Diana Memorial Action Group has proposed a network of that 91 kind and has seen the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to put forward that idea. Noble Lords will understand my difficulty in anticipating future decisions by the memorial committee when that consideration is yet to take place. But I believe that it is important to put this matter in context. In looking for ways to commemorate Diana, Princess of Wales, the memorial committee has always placed greatest emphasis on proposals that continue the work that she started. I believe that that emphasis has been reflected in a number of speeches this evening. The proposal for nursing teams and an award for young people were chosen because of her affinity with young people and her care for the most vulnerable in society.
But the Committee is also mindful that a great many people expect some physical national memorial and that of all the proposals that it has received gardens are among the most popular and appropriate ways in which the public want to remember her. People have chosen Kensington Gardens quite spontaneously as a principal place to go to pay their respects. The number of visitors to Kensington Gardens now runs to about 5 million a year, compared with 2.8 million in 1994. There has been no government or memorial committee action to make that happen; it has happened because people want to go.
Kensington Palace was her home. As we have been reminded, her Butler, Paul Burrell, described how Diana, Princess of Wales used the gardens for running and walking. People will continue to visit Kensington Gardens to remember her. The memorial committee believes that in response it should continue to consider ways in which she can be commemorated there. It will also continue to consider other proposals such as the idea for a network of playgrounds to which I have already referred.
The memorial committee has always recognised that any proposals should command widespread public support before they are implemented. I do not disagree with anything that the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said as to that. That was why the committee undertook the consultation exercise at the earliest opportunity to allow local residents, the relevant authorities, including (I hasten to say) local authorities, and the wider public to put forward their views on the proposals at a very preliminary stage of development. I have listened to the criticism of the consultation process. We and the committee were aware of it at the time. No doubt the committee will take into account what has been said this evening.
But the consultation process had to choose between being entirely prescriptive and setting out a complete plan for the gardens, thus closing off the options and doing what in the end was decided upon; namely, to be much less prescriptive and detailed. One is criticised whatever way one does it. Either one has made up one's mind in advance of the consultation or one is not being sufficiently precise about the subject matter about which one is consulting. In any case, detailed plans for significant changes in Kensington Gardens will fall to be considered by the local authorities and residents under the formal procedures for Crown development. For the information of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, 92 I confirm that that would be in accordance with Circular 18/84. I also confirm that steps are already in hand to commission an environmental impact assessment when proposals are put forward by the committee.
We are aware of all the difficulties that noble Lords have raised. We are aware of the possibility of organised coach tours that may do damage and encourage a greater number of tourists. But these are all considerations that have emerged from the consultation. All I can say to noble Lords is that what they have said this evening will be taken very seriously. I am sure that the Official Report will be available to the committee and that it will want to announce its conclusions before the end of the year. I have every confidence that the memorial committee will, with your Lordships' help, find proposals that can command local as well as national support.
§ The Earl of Kinnoull
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he say whether there would be a public inquiry into any proposal following the decision by the memorial committee, particularly if it involved the area just by Kensington Palace?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I believe that that depends on the scope of the final proposals. As yet we are unaware of it. Clearly, if the proposals were to be significantly scaled down, as I suggested was likely, the demand for a public inquiry would be that much less.
§ Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.26 to 8.35 p.m.]