HL Deb 24 October 2000 vol 618 cc141-3

3.1 p.m.

Lord St John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the role of the Royal Parks Agency in relation to The Regent's Park.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government's policy is to require the Royal Parks Agency to manage Regent's Park, as with all the other Royal Parks, so as to enhance, protect and preserve it for the benefit of this and future generations; to sustain its fabric, buildings and structures; to enhance visitors' enjoyment by improving its services and facilities; and to maximise income where possible.

Lord St John of Fawsley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In applying those principles, does he condemn as an act of vandalism the proposal to set up a commercial garden centre in the middle of the park, not far from Queen Mary's Rose Garden and abutting the Garden of Meditation of St. John's Lodge? Will he also get rid of the statues and sculptures of Mr Ronald Rae, which are disfiguring and have disfigured for over 12 months the Nesfield Garden? And while he is in the Nesfield Garden, will he get his agency to remove the hideous concrete platform from which, during the summer, cassettes of bird song were hired out to unsuspecting tourists, thus preventing them from hearing the real song of indigenous birds in the trees?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if I may take those questions in reverse order, we were not aware that there was still a concrete platform where the so-called "talking trees" had been. We shall certainly look into that. The Ronald Rae statues will be removed by March of next year and that area will be returned to parkland.

On what I believe to be the noble Lord's most urgent point, the question of proposals for a commercial garden centre at Chester Road, those proposals are at a very early stage. Plans are being prepared to apply to Westminster City Council for Circular 1884 permission for such a garden centre. Of course, major issues of disturbance, car parking and so forth will have to be considered, both by the Royal Parks Agency and by the local planning authority.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the recent announcement that the Royal Parks have to pay for themselves represents official government policy?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am not aware of any recent announcement that the Royal Parks have to pay for themselves. They do not pay for themselves and it has never been intended that they should pay for themselves. In my first Answer I said that one of the objectives in the Royal Parks corporate plan was to maximise income. But that would be supplementary to the grant-in-aid which the Royal Parks Agency receives.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, will the Minister accept that I wholeheartedly support a great deal of what my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley said? In addition to those concerns, I add the problem of traffic management in the Inner Circle. It is already heavily trafficked and parking facilities are extremely expensive, often excluding disabled persons wishing to use the park. Moreover, the agency is extremely arrogant in its approach to traffic management and imposed schemes which are running at present which cause great inconvenience and danger to permanent residents.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, there is no easy solution. There are those—including the noble Lord, Lord St John—who believe that there should be even more severe restrictions on traffic in the Royal Parks, particularly through traffic. I fear that there is an insoluble conflict between that aim and the aim of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, to remove obstacles to traffic. Of course there are problems in the Royal Parks; they are part of central London. I acknowledge also that problems exist in the Inner Circle. I was not aware of specific problems for disabled people and would be glad to hear more from the noble Baroness on that subject.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords. I declare an interest as someone who lives in a flat on the Outer Circle. Is the Minister aware that a severe problem arises in the Royal Parks, particularly Regent's Park, through the intrusive effect of tall buildings? Are the Government therefore concerned about the potential damage which may be caused to Regent's Park by the prospective tall development at Paddington Basin?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we are aware of the proposals for tall buildings at Paddington Basin and the Royal Parks Agency formally objected to that development on the grounds that there will be visual intrusion, particularly in Regent's Park.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in reply to his noble friend Lord Strabolgi, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said in his first Answer that one of the aims of the agency was to "maximise profit". Before those words he used the phrase, "as far as possible". Can the Minister remind us what the limiting factor is on the maximisation of profit? There is clearly a conflict of interest between the quiet enjoyment of the park and the exploitation of it for commercial purposes. On that hangs the whole quality of the park itself.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my actual words in my first Answer were, to maximise income where possible". That possibility depends on a congruity with the other objectives I set out in my first Answer. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, is right. There is always the possibility of conflict between maximising income and the other objectives, including the quiet enjoyment of the parks. But that does not mean they are totally mutually exclusive. The committee of Dame Jennifer Jenkins acknowledged the need to raise income from the Royal Parks and a lot of income-producing activities in the Royal Parks are popular and bring people to the parks.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there is a difference between, for example, having a series of theatrical performances during the summer at Regent's Park, and having a permanent commercial activity in the centre of the park? It is that to which a number of people, including myself, object so strongly.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we recognise that there is a great deal of difference between the open-air theatre and the possibility of a commercial garden centre at Chester Road. The points made by the noble Baroness are relevant to the considerations of the Royal Parks and Westminster City Council.

Lord St John of Fawsley

My Lords, in view of the satisfactory and sympathetic answers of the noble Lord, and the introduction by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House of the new constitutional idea of self-nomination, will the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, consider nominating himself as Secretary of State because he clearly has all the qualifications for the position?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Prime Minister might have a thing or two to say about that.