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Palace of Westminster: Vehicle Access

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What proposals are being considered for securing easier vehicular access to the Palace of Westminster via Black Rod’s Garden entrance and the underground car park.

My Lords, under phase 3 of the Palace protection project, the bus lane outside the House would be removed. The Corus barriers in front of the House would then be moved outwards, making entry and exit easier, particularly for vehicles with large turning circles. The feasibility of phase 3, including costs, is being studied.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that comprehensive response, although he did not refer to the tunnel joining the underground car park to the House. What proposals are there in place for the introduction of electronic gates, the removal of buses from the car park exit, which block people as they leave the Palace, and the supply of winter and waterproof clothing for police and car park attendants?

My Lords, the possibility of a pedestrian tunnel linking the Abingdon Street underground car park to the House has been considered before. In connection with the Millbank House project, the matter may be considered by committees again. However, there are no plans to build such a tunnel. Any such project would have considerable financial implications.

As to the provision of electronic gates in the Corus barriers, there are design difficulties with making the Corus barrier gates automatic and considerable problems with the power supply to them. The intention under phase 3, with the extra room provided by the removal of the bus lane, would be to move to swinging gates as opposed to sliding gates, which would assist.

The bus lane outside the end of the Black Rod’s Garden exit, turning left, is a matter for Westminster City Council and Transport for London. We have asked them to consider moving the bus stop further along the road.

Visitor assistants are issued with waterproof and warm clothing in the winter. However, I have no responsibility for what the police do or do not wear.

My Lords, will the Government bear it in mind that in the interests of security, and the great need for it, it would be better not to have increased vehicular access to the Palace of Westminster?

My Lords, it is difficult to know how we would supply the Palace of Westminster with food and drink, and everything else we use—including plastic bags—unless there was vehicular access, and access for Peers as well.

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Lord Chairman note that some of us use that bus stop at the end of Black Rod’s Garden? We would not be favourable to it being moved further away from our workplace, thank you very much.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, would not mind moving another 20 or 30 yards along the street.

My Lords, are there any long-term plans to close Abingdon Street and Parliament Square to vehicular access?

My Lords, in the longer term there is something called the World Squares for All proposal. It has just completed a feasibility study into the future vision for Parliament Square and its environs. Included in this is a series of options, one of which envisages the closure of Abingdon Street and the pedestrianisation of Old Palace Yard. The first phase of the proposal is under discussion; if agreed, this would see the closure of the road on the south side of the square, linking Westminster Abbey to Parliament Square itself.

My Lords, bearing in mind the increasing number of your Lordships who have offices over the road, across Abingdon Green, does not the noble Lord the Lord Chairman, agree that the most pressing immediate need is to improve pedestrian safety, particularly at the traffic lights across the main road? All of us who cross there several times a day take our lives in our hands, particularly when pedal cyclists, regrettably, refuse to take notice of the traffic lights.

My Lords, I remember answering questions about pedal cyclists at this Dispatch Box in a former role. I think we have had enough questions on this; the views of many Members of the House about pedal cyclists are well known. However, I take the noble Lord’s point; if and when we move to phase 3, the crossing controlled by traffic lights would be thoroughly re-examined.

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees expect the closure of Old Palace Yard to precede the completion of House of Lords reform or to come after it?

My Lords, the next bus stop to the one we presently use is pretty close, by Lambeth Bridge. Surely the transport people will not allow us to have two bus stops close together.

My Lords, the problem with the bus stop is that if there is a bus stopped at it—which is, after all, what bus stops are for—vehicles attempting to exit the Lords’ car park into that lane have difficulty getting out. Obviously it would be best if the bus stop could be moved a little further along to ease that problem. I do not know what the regulation distance between bus stops in London is, and I am glad to say that it is not one of my responsibilities.

My Lords, should we not be encouraging noble Lords to walk a little further, to keep their figures nice and slim?

My Lords, the noble Lord the Lord Chairman referred to World Squares for All. Does he not agree that one of the proposals is that it should all be pedestrianised in front of the entrance to the House of Lords, which is at present our car park? If so, does he not agree that that would be a thoroughly bad thing?

No my Lords, I do not necessarily agree. There is no question of us not having vehicular access to the front of the House, but it would be restricted to through traffic. However, all this is a very long way away and not something that we need worry about at the moment.

My Lords, can I make it clear that we are not asking for the bus stop to be removed? We are asking for coaches and buses to be prevented from parking at the point where Members leave the parliamentary estate because they are blocking the traffic, not buses stopping at the bus stop.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. I am not sure about the rules for coaches and other buses that stop on that part of the road, but it is a matter for Westminster City Council and Transport for London and we can raise the issue with them again.