§ Mr. Sproat
I have now considered the group's report in detail. As with the two previous reviews—on Hyde park and Kensington gardens, and on St. James's, Green and Regent's parks—the review group, chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, examined a wide range of issues relating to the role and management of the park, consulting widely with individuals and interested organisations. The conclusions were discussed at a one-day conference, and were well received. The conference delegates supported the majority of the recommendations, but made a few alternative suggestions.
The group's recommendations focus on the opportunities to provide for changing demands and pressures without losing sight of the park's prime function of providing a green open space, close to the heart of the city, where local residents and tourists alike can enjoy themselves in the open air, amidst examples of London's finest built heritage. We have been looking positively at the group's proposals, and I confirm that I can accept them in principle. I set out the action we have taken, and my proposals for taking matters forward, including the necessary consultations which will have to be carried out before some recommendations can be implemented. The availability of financial resources will of course determine the timing of some.
The principle recommendations of the group are to nominate a world heritage site at Greenwich, and to open up the great axis, leading from the Isle of Dogs across the Thames to the Royal Naval college and the Queen's house, up the park's escarpment to the Wolfe monument, and on to the spire of All Saints church in Blackheath.
I endorse the world heritage site proposal. I have sought preliminary advice from English Heritage, and my Department is pursuing discussions with the London borough of Greenwich, and other interested parties. If all goes well, I hope to put Greenwich forward by the end of this year for inclusion in the United Kingdom's tentative list of world heritage sites, with a view to making a formal nomination by July 1996.
I endorse the proposal to open up the great axis, and my Department will be taking this forward in respect of the Royal Naval college site, in consultation with the relevant parties. The document, inviting expressions of interest in the future use of the Royal Naval college buildings, confirms the Government's wish to see greater public access to this site. The proposal concerning the axis, as it unfolds through the area leading from the Queen's house, up through the park, and as to how a less divisive boundary between the National Maritime museum and park can be achieved, will be the subject of detailed discussion between the two organisations. The Royal Parks agency will commission its landscape architects, in co-operation with the museum, to look at the 815W landscaping issues in detail, including the escarpment, and will put forward recommendations. Consultations will then take place with all concerned.
As in earlier reports, the Jenkins group considered that there was a need to curb traffic and parking, to improve the safety of pedestrians and the atmosphere of the park. They recommended that this could be achieved by banning through traffic, and closing St. Mary's gate, at the north end of the park, and redesigning the layout of Blackheath avenue to create more space for pedestrians. The closure of St. Mary's gate will require discussion with the London borough of Greenwich, the Minister for Transport in London, the Traffic Director for London, and local interested groups. Discussions are in hand, and subject to the outcome, we are thinking of introducing a six month trial ban next year. The Royal Parks Agency will also commission a design study of Blackheath avenue in due course as funds permit.
On the group's recommendations to bring into the park additional areas, from which the public are now excluded, the agency has begun discussions with the London borough of Greenwich about the Old Orchard, and with Thames Water about the reservoir. The agency has commissioned a feasibility study of how best to use the former nursery site, with a view to retaining two glasshouses and the contractor's yard, and incorporating the remainder into the deer enclosure. Any programme of works resulting from the study would not begin until full consultations had taken place. The works would be phased over a number of years, and would be dependant on available financial resources.
The group made a number of other recommendations to improve the ambience of the park, including improvements in planting and pruning, banning dogs from sports areas, and continuing with the current sports provision. These have already been implemented. Work is about to begin on improving surfaces in the children's playground, and costs will be met from existing budgets. The costs of other recommendations, to improve paths and upgrade benches, will be met from current and future maintenance budgets of the Royal Parks Agency. For proposals such as the provision of shelters and cycle tracks, the agency will be seeking sponsorship and private finance.
The report also refers to the prime meridian in the context of the millennium. I accept the recommendation that there should be no new millennium building in the 816W park, but welcome the suggestion of marking the meridian line in some way. The Royal Parks Agency will be inviting proposals of how this might be achieved.
The full cost of implementing the recommendations is not yet known, as further studies are required in many instances. It will also be necessary to consider the royal parks requirements alongside other demands on my Department's budget.
I am most grateful for the contribution and time Dame Jennifer and her group have given to the review, and for their comprehensive report and constructive recommendations. I look forward to their final report on the remaining royal parks—Richmond and Bushy.