Skip to main content

Houses of Parliament: World Squares for All

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

asked the Chairman of Committees:

What progress has been made in the world squares project for Parliament Square and Old Palace Yard and the consequent impact on security.

My Lords, the latest stage of the world squares project is the development of proposals for the implementation of the mayor’s Parliament Square public spaces scheme. That involves reorganising the road system, closing Broad Sanctuary on the north side of St Margaret’s Church and making Parliament Square accessible to pedestrians. It is planned that the work will be completed by 2012. There will be no impact on our security measures. I placed a paper illustrating the proposed changes to the road system in the Library of the House today.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that comprehensive reply. Many noble Lords will recall that the first world squares project document, which I think your Lordships discussed, was published in 1998—I still have a copy of it. This project will be completed 14 years after the first document was produced. Could my noble friend explain why it is taking so long? Can he do anything with the other organisations in the intervening period to try to make the road across Old Palace Yard a little safer for cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians? What is going to happen to the pavement that the House spent £2 million on a couple of years ago, which is now falling to bits under the weight of traffic?

My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord’s concern about the length of time that all this has taken, but I must say that the parliamentary authorities are not in the lead on this subject by any manner of means. A whole series of organisations is involved in the world squares steering group, including the Greater London Authority, Westminster City Council, Transport for London, English Heritage, the Government Office for London and the Royal Parks Agency—not forgetting the Mayor of London himself. So it is not fair to blame the House authorities in any way for the slowness of the project; it is probably because so many people are involved that it has taken such a long time.

As for Old Palace Yard—that is to say, Abingdon Street—no plans are envisaged by the world squares steering group to close Abingdon Street. However, that would be desirable in the longer term for security reasons. The next stage that will have an impact on cyclists and traffic is what we colloquially call Corus 3, which is to move the Corus barriers further out into the road.

My Lords, following that point about security, while I understand the need for the security barriers, does the noble Lord share my concern about the safety consequences? It is extremely easy for someone to step from the narrow gap in the security barrier straight into the moving traffic and then to step backwards into moving traffic because that is the filter lane out. Having experienced that myself, I think that there is a problem. There is also a problem at the exit from our car park with cyclists, especially at night. It is impossible to see them, because the height of the barriers hides their lights. Sooner or later, there will be an accident, and it would be a great tragedy if we compromised safety in the name of security.

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s last point, I am aware of the problems at the exit from the car park. We have looked into that, especially with regard to the bus stop adjacent to the exit, which means that noble Lords and others have to pull out into the middle of the road. I am not sure where we are on that at the moment, but we are looking at it. I appreciate the other point that the noble Lord makes, but there is a traffic light-controlled crossing, which I encourage noble Lords to use.

My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees say what progress has been made on the completion of the visitor reception centre, because that work is having a significant impact on the traffic flow along the front of this building and, I imagine, some impact on safety?

My Lords, I regret that there is no good news on the visitor reception building. It was originally due to be opened in, I think, October. It was then hoped that it would be opened by the time we came back after Christmas. There are now serious delays, and it is not expected to open until probably the spring. We have set up an external review to examine the reasons for the delay. I do not wish to go into details on this, because it could very well end up in litigation.

My Lords, is this square not like many other projects in that, if it happens quickly, the result will be good and will increase security, and we should really just get behind it and give as much support as we can to make sure that that happens?

My Lords, security is, of course, important, which is why we are moving, probably next year, to push the barriers further out to give a greater gap between the frontage of the Palace and the road. As I said earlier, it would probably be better in the longer term to close Abingdon Street altogether, but that was not accepted by the steering group.

My Lords, on the question of the underground car park on, I think, Abingdon Street, has there been any development on direct underground access to this House? Also, has any work been done on evaluating the congestion effect of the world squares project on traffic on the embankment, Victoria Street, Birdcage Walk and Whitehall?

My Lords, the noble Lord’s latter point is not for me but for the various authorities—the Greater London Authority, Westminster Council, Transport for London and so on—to which I referred earlier. On the other point, we are looking at the possibility of building a subway to connect the Abingdon Street car park and Millbank House to the Palace, although we are at a very early stage on that.

My Lords, does the noble Lord understand that any representations that he can make to close Abingdon Street will have a great deal of support in this House? Is he aware of the grave danger to cyclists coming from Parliament Square when they come upon the barriers, which force them out into the flow of traffic? When that happens, they have nowhere to go. On the left is the big black barrier and on the right is the traffic. It is an accident waiting to happen.

My Lords, I am aware of the situation regarding cyclists. That has been looked into and, as I say, when we move the barriers further out, there might be a possibility of improving the situation, but I am afraid that there is no possibility of that at the moment.