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Bushy Park does not have the same high profile as Richmond, but is much prized by the people of Teddington and the surrounding areas as, in effect, our local countryside. For noble Lords who are not familiar with the area, Bushy Park lies to the north of Hampton Court Palace and was originally part of its deer park and hunting grounds. It has some attractive 18th century features, including a recently restored cataract, various ponds and a woodland with a meandering stream. However, it is largely used as a source of recreation by local families who wish to bring their children to feed the ducks, to picnic, to fish in the ponds, to run about, or to play on the swings and see-saws in the playground.
As a nation, we constantly express concern about obese children and the lack of opportunities for children to take exercise informally. Bushy Park goes a long way to counter those problems. To have those open-ended activities constrained by concerns about parking meters would alter the whole nature of the experience and relationship with the park.
The Minister in another place has argued that there are good public transport links to Bushy Park. These consist of one bus an hour on the north side of the park and would then require a parent with small children to walk the mile to the south side of the park to the children's playground. I understand the financial difficulties of the Royal Parks but spending nearly £3 million on an unpopular scheme of parking meters and supervision is not the only possible solution. Bushy Park is bisected by a commuter route that is a short cut to Hampton Court Bridge. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of car drivers use this route every day. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, suggested, it would be possible to introduce a charge using modern technology such as the congestion charge which would surely enable a toll to be placed on all cars entering the park and would not jeopardise the relationship between local residents and the park. I hope that my noble friend will give further thought to the need to introduce this statutory instrument.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I want to speak about Richmond Park. For more than 70 years I have enjoyed Richmond Park-as a small child, as I grew older and indeed, today, well not today exactly but recently. I have been a regular visitor to Richmond Park. I have walked, walked the dog, and had picnics. I have cycled, ridden horses from the local stables and I even skated on Penn Pond and tried to ski, but not very effectively, along with many others who took advantage of the snow in that year.
It is not only people who live in the west of London who use the park. I now live in the City and I still go there, so I would be slightly sad if only local residents had a right to go and enjoy the park without having to pay a toll. As has already been said, Richmond Park and, indeed, Bushy Park, which I do not know so well, are wonderful places. But more importantly, they fulfil a need for the public to have recreation and exercise. That is one of the things that Governments support, for goodness' sake. To have a Toll on it is sad. As a former resident and going back now, I cannot remember a single bus that goes anywhere near any of the gates. I am thinking of Kingston, Richmond, Roehampton, Robin Hood and Sheen. There is a long walk. In Richmond, for example, there is no bus to take you up the hill to the Richmond gate. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest, as the Explanatory Memorandum says in paragraph 7.1 that,
Even if you ride you have to park your car beforehand, and, unless you are a cyclist, how do you take your picnic, dog, children and grandchildren to spend half a day in the park? There is no reasonable way to get there. The suggestion in paragraph 8.5 that discussions on improving bus services are being reopened is pie in the sky. That has been tried before and has never happened. This is not about the land train to go once round the park, which might be nice, but which would take up space, but the facilities to get to the park. As it happens the only way to get there to enjoy it is to go by car.
It is extraordinarily sad, as other speakers have said, that this Government should want to deprive people of free access to one of the great amenities of west London. It is absolutely extraordinary that this Government would want to do that, and to take no notice of the 84 per cent of the respondents to the consultation who objected. Generally, cars are full of families, dogs and children, out for a happy day for picnics. It is a delightful and utterly respectable outing for families, so it is inappropriate and very unfair to have these regulations. I urge the Government to withdraw and reconsider them.
Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I start by declaring two interests. First, I have been a resident of Richmond for 45 years and have gained tremendous pleasure from Richmond Park as has my family as they grew up. I know Richmond Park much better than Bushy Park, but for those who have not visited Richmond Park it is an astonishing place and a discovery. It is an extraordinary space in the heart of Greater London.
I have a second interest to declare which is that I am chairman of Arcadia, which is the project implementing the Thames Landscape Strategy from Hampton Court to Kew. It is a project that has raised more than £4 million and has involved 105,000 volunteer hours, and it has been a tremendous success. Our report on the Arcadia project states that that reach of the River Thames flows through one of the largest open public spaces in London, which is an area that is unique in its combination of landscaped gardens, habitats, parks and vistas. Richmond Park and Bushy Park are integral to both the project and concept of Arcadia. It has been said of this English landscape and its environmental significance that it is one of the most important and influential gifts that England has given the world, along with the English language and democratic parliamentary government. I am pretty keen on the English language and pretty keen on parliamentary government, and this is the third part of the trilogy.
It is entirely appropriate and proper that Parliament has a chance tonight to stop this proposal to impose car parking charges in the parks. The environment and the views of Arcadia were first protected by an Act of Parliament just over 100 years ago-indeed, it was a measure introduced in the House of Lords. It was partly to mark the 100th anniversary that we started the Arcadia project in 2002. That Act of Parliament specifically safeguarded the view from Richmond Hill-the view from the terrace and gardens that abut the park. Richmond Park is the great space that lines and protects the Thames landscape. It covers 2,500 acres, which is arguably the biggest park in London, with vistas unmatched and treasured by every generation since Charles I was first challenged to open it to the public. The thrust of Arcadia has been to restore the vistas that link the area, including incidentally the view from the park to St Paul's Cathedral, and to enhance access. This has happened with astonishing speed and success. Yet-I address particularly the Government Front Bench-tonight we have a move to impose via the Royal Parks Agency substantial charges for parking, which would put a price on access. It is a proposal which can and should be stopped unequivocally tonight.
Why? The aim of this proposal is to raise money for a number of purposes, but arguably the most important would be to improve the roads that criss-cross the parks, which are of course already heavy with passing traffic. In effect, these motorists are taking a short cut through the park. Yet, those who come to visit, to view and to enjoy the park will be penalised, but not the motorists who are passing through.
This is a quite extraordinary proposal. What would be the result if this happens? Hundreds of thousands of people visit the parks. If they are deterred by the charges, which will be substantial, as has already been quoted, they will either not come, which would be a terrible pity, or they will park in neighbouring streets, greatly add to congestion in those streets and inconvenience the residents. There is huge concern about this issue among these residents. The figure of 84 per cent has already been quoted today. There is well nigh universal opposition to this proposal.
Now we come to the strange business of the Conservative Motion. Why are the Conservatives not joining us tonight in support of this fatal Motion? There is a clue in the fact that thousands of households in the Richmond Park constituency have today received a notice. It is described as an "important notice" and comes from the prospective parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park. In bold print he declares:
If that is the case, why do we have this regret Motion? To regret is one thing; to stop it altogether is another. So why propose a feeble Motion instead of a fatal Motion? Why so queasy? I am told that fatal Motions do not appeal. They are perhaps too brutal, too bold and too decisive. The position tonight is clear. We should not regret: we should act and stop this proposed tax-because that is what it is-on the public spaces that so delight.
Free access to Richmond Park and Bushy Park needs to be preserved and protected for all who want to visit and enjoy what the young Alexander Pope called the brightest beauties-superior to "distant fields". It was so then. It is so now.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. In particular, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for her contribution. I know that she is a great supporter of the Royal Parks and Richmond Park in particular. I got clearly from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, if I did not realise it before, that there will be a general election. It will not be more keenly fought or fought with more passion than in the Richmond area. That is clear also from the contributions.
All contributions made clear just how much the Royal Parks are cherished, not only in this House but by the millions of people who visit them every year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, pointed out, each of the eight parks consists of a listed landscape, and they comprise 5,000 acres. They are enjoyed as places of relaxation, recreation and retreat, and they provide a backdrop to many ceremonial events. As the noble Baroness rightly said, they also provide valuable conservation areas and important habitats for wildlife.
A number of passionate views have been expressed today opposing the parking charges for Richmond Park and Bushy Park. I have not found the arguments particularly compelling, for reasons which I hope to explain. First, in recognition of the special nature of Richmond Park in particular, but also Bushy Park, Richmond is particularly unusual in that it has a triple whammy: it is a designated site of special scientific interest, a national nature reserve and a European special area of conservation. As long ago as 1996, Dame Jennifer Jenkins in a report on Richmond Park stated:
The report went on to say that in cities and elsewhere, charges have become an acceptable means of sharing the use of existing parking space and encouraging some people to make greater use of public transport. Richmond Park should be no different. She also made observations about Bushy Park.
Anyone visiting the parks can see the obvious negative impact of traffic. It is not unusual to see cars queuing along the road outside the park waiting to enter the car parks. At popular times, parking areas can be full by mid-morning. Not only does that diminish the special ambiance of the parks, but it leads to degradation of the roads and the car parks, as has been emphasised by several speakers. It is estimated that £2.7 million is needed to be spent to bring the car parks in Richmond Park up to an acceptable standard, including-this is an important point-installing environmentally appropriate petrol interceptor drainage that will reduce the pollutants entering the soil, which the noble Baroness mentioned in her opening speech. Maintaining the roads, the car parks and other park infrastructure is an ongoing process. The fabric is under constant pressure. It is estimated that the accumulated works maintenance and liability across the royal parks is £58 million.
Noble Lords have referred to access. The Royal Parks are free to everyone and will remain so. There is no question of access being denied. We are looking at the cars that enter not for access but to park. We do not want to create barriers to people visiting the park. We want to encourage people to visit by means other than their car when they can. As has been quoted in the percentage figures, I recognise that there has been a great deal of local opposition to introducing charges. In some ways that is not really surprising.
Who enjoys paying for parking, particularly if it has been free in the past? But it is wrong to suggest that what is being proposed for Richmond Park and Bushy Park is in any way exceptional. It is not. All the other Royal Parks with public parking provision-Greenwich, Regent's Park and Hyde Park-charge for parking and have done so for a number of years. In the past three years, parking in those car parks delivered to the agency a net income of £1.4 million, all of which was reinvested into the parks. Many local authorities, public bodies and private facilities charge for parking. In and around Richmond and in Bushy Park, the parks could be said to be unusual in that parking remains free.
Much has been made of the substantial charges being made. It has been suggested that it was wrong in some way to measure the socio-economic background of people using the park. But, as one of the criticisms was a fear that poor people, rather than less-poor people, would be particularly impacted, it was sensible to find out who uses the park on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, I do not apologise for that inquiry or for the results which show very much that socio-economic groups A, B and C use the park most extensively, whereas socio-economic groups D and E use them only to the extent of 4 per cent or 5 per cent.
The proposed level of charge is 50 pence for an hour, up to a maximum of £2 for a whole day in Bushy Park, and £1 an hour, up to an all-day maximum of £3 in Richmond Park, which I would argue is not
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The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, went to great trouble to look up my hobbies-I am very flattered-and he pointed out that walking is one of them. Yes, it is, and I recommend Talkin Tarn, which is the remainder of an Icelandic lake near Brampton in Cumbria. You cannot get there by public transport but you can park your car, for which you are charged. I recommend it as a place to walk round; it is spectacular. It is in the charge and ownership of Cumbria County Council, and therefore Cumbria taxpayers like me pay council tax and also pay for the privilege of parking there.
The Royal Parks do not belong to the borough of Richmond or to the people of London; they are national treasures which belong to all of us. The good burghers of Richmond in Yorkshire are paying the same contribution as the burghers of Richmond in Surrey, so, in that sense, the charges cannot be excessive.
The question of public transport links to Richmond and Bushy Parks brought out a great deal of sympathy among noble Lords. Several bus routes stop within walking distance to the parks but I accept that, for some people, travelling there by public transport could be inconvenient. The Royal Parks Agency has offered to accommodate a public bus service to Richmond Park, subject to appropriate support from local authorities and transport for riders. I understand that negotiations are ongoing-I do not necessarily share the pessimism of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on this-and that the agency is also looking at the viability of a land train through Richmond Park.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, referred to the problem of displacement. One can see that people have a reasonable concern that all that will happen is that drivers who do not want to pay the charge will park their cars in the surrounding streets. The agency realised that that concern had some traction-if you will pardon the pun-and so commissioned independent research on the issue. That research came to the conclusion that displacement parking in the streets around the parks was unlikely to occur as a result of charging. The boroughs surrounding the parks have a range of parking control measures at their disposal already, including controlled parking zones, of which some are already in place.
On the issue of bus services in the areas of the parks, I am told that 10 bus routes run in the vicinity of Richmond Park and a dozen in the vicinity of Bushy Park. While the railway stations around Richmond Park are some distance away, the stations around Bushy Park are only some 15 minutes away. It is true, as has been said, that this will have some impact on those who are physically impaired and on families who have to carry their goods for picnic. If you are
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The key point of toll roads was made eloquently by both my noble friend Lady Hilton and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, in moving her Motion. We considered the issue of using road tolls as an alternative in both 1998 and the early part of this century. I can see why the suggestion would be supported by those who would prefer it to the parking charge, but when we tested this in 2002 only 20 per cent of those consulted had a favourable view of road tolls and 67 per cent opposed them. So if we introduced them, all we would do is change the lobby of opposition from static to mobile and from the immediate environs of Richmond and Bushy Parks to a slightly wider area. Although the issue may be looked at again in future, at present there are no plans for toll roads.
It has also been suggested that the measure is being forced on the agency because of cuts in its aid grant and a demand that it raises more of its own revenue. It is true that the Royal Parks have been highly successful in raising income-from £3 million in 1997-98 to £13 million in 2008-09. This has reduced the agency's dependency on the public purse, which must be a good thing as we go into an era of greater public stringency in the revenue and income available for investment in public services, a point which has been stressed in particular by the opposition parties. However, the key is that the agency invests back into the Royal Parks all the moneys that are raised.
The proposals that we are putting forward in these park regulations are about managing the parks for the benefit of the present and future generations. Some have criticised the proposals as exceptional and unreasonable; I hope that I have proved that they are not inasmuch as they already exist in other Royal Parks. As I have said, the Royal Parks are funded by central government and have an international reputation. They need to be continually managed in the light of new challenges and the changes in behaviour of visitors, or the danger is that we will destroy the very things that we value so much.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. In particular, it was a great pleasure to hear the warm words said about Richmond and Bushy Parks. The Minister has not addressed the issue of the pressure caused by through traffic using the park as part of the road network. This is a problem for Richmond Park. The problem is not the people who go to the car parks to enjoy the park for the day and to picnic, it is the through traffic-and that does not apply to all parks.
The Conservatives seem to agree with us on every point-there is no dissent on the issue whatever-except that they are too scared to support a fatal amendment which would stop the Government in their tracks and make them, when and if they win the general election, rethink this question and consider tolls instead of car park charges.
There would have been no debate on this issue if I, a former Member of Parliament for Richmond Park-yes, Richmond Park-had not been persuaded by the present
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