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Victoria Tower Gardens

Volume 699: debated on Thursday 21 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is the policy of the Royal Parks on private events held in Victoria Tower Gardens.

My Lords, the Royal Parks permitted two enclosed events to be held in a marquee-type structure in Victoria Tower Gardens during the month leading up to Christmas 2007. The Royal Parks is reviewing the holding of similar events this year.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but it really is not satisfactory. Why does the Royal Parks encourage a commercial corporate entertainment organisation to despoil Victoria Tower Gardens? The grass in this area has not recovered from what happened in December. It is an area greatly loved by parliamentarians, residents, office workers and tourists. It contains a marvellous Thameside walk, fabulous trees and three significant art works. Why does the Royal Parks have the right to despoil this area? What are the Government going to do about it? What can we, as one of the strongest economies in the world, do to try to encourage the fact that we do not want ugliness, but rather prefer the transcendence of beauty?

My Lords, I suppose that I have always thought that our parklands should encourage transcendent beauty, but the Royal Parks has a policy of making its eight parks available for commercial lettings. That has had a long history for many decades. Its policy was developed in close consultation with Westminster City Council—the local licensing authority—the DCMS and other stakeholders, including the police and local residents. The Royal Parks makes very good use of the commercial opportunities and the money that comes from them is ploughed back into maintaining the parks to the very high standards of which the noble Baroness and many other Members of your Lordships’ House obviously approve.

My Lords, is not the noble Baroness absolutely right? The guidelines for organisers of events in the Royal Parks state:

“The Royal Parks are managed to provide public access and enjoyment of the open air. Events held in the Royal Parks should be broadly consistent with these ideals. With this in mind, there are a number of events we don’t normally consider, these include: Private parties”.

Do not these events directly contradict these guidelines and are not aggressive income targets directly contrary to the sustainable development and environment policy of the Royal Parks?

My Lords, the Royal Parks has to make its own commercial decisions on these matters, but it obviously took the view that this was an appropriate event. It was well organised and well marshalled. It closed by 12.30 am. I understand that there was very little noise nuisance and in fact no complaints about these events have been received. It is important that public access is maintained, but one could fairly argue that a night-time party does not exactly prevent people from using the park.

My Lords, unless the view is taken—and I do not think it should be—that the public should be charged for admission to the Royal Parks, are not the only two available sources of revenue government grant in aid and charges for special events? If for necessary reasons of public economy grant in aid is not enough to pay for the very high standard of maintenance that we require, are we really entitled to grumble if the Royal Parks raises additional revenue from occasionally permitting private or other events in the parks, however loath we are to see the public temporarily excluded from areas of the parks or otherwise inconvenienced?

My Lords, I am not aware that anyone was particularly inconvenienced by these two events. I stand to be corrected on that. The Royal Parks should actually be congratulated on the way in which it has approached the generation of extra income, which has been valuably reinvested back into the Royal Parks estate.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that Victoria Tower Gardens is not much more than a dank field surrounded by a few bushes? Is it not time for us to have an appropriate garden similar to those enjoyed by legislatures elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world? I know that my noble friend Lady Walmsley has great plans for the gardens and has discussed them with interested parties. Would the noble Lord be prepared to support such an initiative?

My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the description that the gardens are dank. I have enjoyed the odd picnic out there on a nice, warm summer lunchtime and I have been a user of that park for many years. The noble Lord does the Royal Parks a disservice. One can always have improvements in a park. I love parkland; when I was leader of my local authority we had some 13,000 acres of open land. We enjoyed our parks, and we still do.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his answer that the party happened at night and did not inconvenience people is slightly erroneous, because it takes some time to set up the structures for these events and often even longer to take them down? Those are the times that the public are inconvenienced.

My Lords, my recollection of December is that the weather was not too brilliant. Yes, there may well have been some inconvenience, but no complaints were made about the erection of the structure used for those events. There is a danger that noble Lords could be accused of becoming killjoys when people hold party events in parklands.

My Lords, is there a ceiling to the number of days for which any single royal park can be used for commercial purposes?

My Lords, I suspect that a view is probably taken by Royal Parks because it wants carefully to manage its open spaces in the public interest. Yes, there is probably an informal level, but it obviously has to strike a balance between the pressure to generate some commercial income to invest back into the parks and properly maintaining the parklands to the standard which I am sure we all enjoy.

My Lords, is not the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mildly out of order in referring to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as his “noble friend”? My impression historically is that she is his noble kinsman. That is slightly out of date; I may be wrong, but perhaps she is his noble kinswoman.

My Lords, I must say that, when I was landed with this Question, I did not think that I would have to get into the business of splitting hairs between noble friends and noble kinsmen. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, enjoy a very amicable relationship.

My Lords, to look on the bright side, does the Minister agree that things have moved on satisfactorily since the era when the sole evidence of the private sector in the Victoria Tower Gardens was Albanians selling frankfurters in the shadow of Rodin?

My Lords, I do not think that I have had the pleasure of an Albanian frankfurter in the Victoria Tower Gardens, but the noble Lord is right to say that things have moved on somewhat.