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Greenwich Hospital Site: Future

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 28 March 1996

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asked Her Majesty's Government:When they expect to receive advice from the special panel constituted to consider the future of Greenwich Hospital.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 19th December that he had invited a group of distinguished experts to advise him on the expressions of interests in, and on the future use and management of, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, which he holds for the benefit of the Crown charity, Greenwich Hospital.The advisory group has submitted its interim report. He is most grateful to its members for the way in which they have addressed the issues so far. Copies of the report, amended only to protect matters of commercial confidentiality, have been placed in the Library of the House.Much detailed work remains to be done to secure the future of the site but, with the support of his right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for National Heritage and for the Environment (the latter as Minister for London), I am pleased to be able to announce that my right honourable friend has accepted the central recommendations of the advisory group that, in the event of non-Defence occupancy of the Royal Naval College:the head lease on the site should go to an independent trust charged with preserving its architectural and historic integrity, with the proper maintenance of the buildings and with ensuring public access. Such a trust would need to have regard also to the wider site for which the Government intends to secure world heritage status from UNESCO. He would also expect it to pay particular regard to the College's historical associations with the Royal Navy. He has invited the advisory group to give further consideration to the issues which will need to be resolved to enable such a trust to be established;on the information provided so far, the University of Greenwich appears to be the most appropriate contender to be the main occupant of the site, with the National Maritime Museum enjoying the use of certain parts. He will be inviting those organisations to refine their proposals for occupation of the Royal Naval College.

He has also accepted the recommendation that the Trafalgar Quarters, currently occupied by the staff colleges, should be converted by Greenwich Hospital to provide sheltered accommodation for retired seafarers and their wives or widows. It seems particularly appropriate that a part of the site should be applied to one of the central purposes in the Crown charity's founding charter of 1694.

To carry forward the recommendations in the report, new powers are required and these will he sought in the Armed Forces Bill, currently in another place. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces has advised the Select Committee considering the Bill of his intention to table an amendment, whereby my right honourable friend can be empowered to balance the wider interests of the heritage of the site with his responsibilities towards Greenwich Hospital.

He is grateful to those organisations and individuals that have contributed to the debate so far on the future of the Royal Naval College. He is conscious that this announcement will be a disappointment to some who indicated an expression of interest, but whose proposal will not be considered further.

The Government are determined that the future use of the Royal Naval College should be one worthy of the magnificent site, and in the best interests of the Greenwich Hospital and the nation.

I will keep the House informed of developments.