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Old Palace Yard

Volume 836: debated on Thursday 7 March 2024


Asked by

To ask the Senior Deputy Speaker what discussions he has had in the past year on plans to remove through-traffic from Old Palace Yard to improve safety and the environment.

My Lords, I have not been involved directly in discussions to remove through traffic from Old Palace Yard, but I am aware that parliamentary authorities are working with Westminster City Council, Transport for London and the Mayor of London’s office on the development of a scheme for the Parliament Square area. The scheme looks to improve safety and the environment, and includes assessing the possibility of removing vehicular through traffic from Old Palace Yard to Parliament Square.

I am very grateful to the Senior Deputy Speaker for his Answer. Would he not agree that the existing traffic through Old Palace Yard and the confusing pedestrian crossings are unsafe and not very attractive from an environmental point of view? Will he add his weight to and participate in these ongoing discussions to pedestrianise Old Palace Yard and move those barriers a bit further away—obviously, we need security—so that everybody can enjoy Old Palace Yard without fear of being run over?

My Lords, I recognise what the noble Lord has said. I should say that the political oversight group comprises Mr Speaker and the Lord Speaker, so we already have substantial weight on the parliamentary side. The initial concept design work is being undertaken by a consortium of engineers and architects, and we hope it will be finished by the end of the year. It will then need to go out for consultation to the statutory authorities and local residents, and implementation would be drawn up thereafter.

My Lords, if my memory serves me correctly, I first saw the plans for this that the noble Lord mentioned when I was on the Finance Committee, five years ago. These plans have been thought about for five years, mainly because of the huge security risk at the front of this building, which is still not being addressed. What is the noble Lord’s estimate for the timetable for this work being undertaken? Last time I asked, I was told that it was down to Westminster City Council; well, at least we have a Labour council now, so maybe progress will be made.

My Lords, Westminster City Council and Parliament are equal partners in this, alongside the Mayor of London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner and the Deputy Mayor for Transport. This particular scheme has been under development since 2021, although I know there have been previous ones, and the commissions of both Houses approved us finding a way forward with it.

My Lords, my issue is rather more modest. It concerns the road safety of pedestrians using the light-controlled crossing immediately outside Peers’ Entrance. The time delay on that crossing is so long that the vast majority of pedestrians who are new to the area think that it is not working. As a result, they go out and basically play in the traffic, dodging cars. Can the noble Lord please use his good offices to put on some pressure—this could be done really quickly—to deal with the time delay on that crossing and make it safer and more effective?

My Lords, I will take back what the noble Baroness has said. I do know that safety and access concerns have been expressed by Members, including at pedestrian crossings, and parliamentary authorities have already raised this during discussions with Westminster City Council—but I will take back that point.

My Lords, I declare my interest as the former director of transport policy for the Mayor of London. I therefore have some acute insight into this issue around traffic management, pedestrian safety and pedestrianisation. In fact, there was a scheme in 2008 to pedestrianise part of Parliament Square but, when it was looked at extensively, there was an issue post the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square; what would happen to traffic flow if there were any incidents in the area? It was considered that we would have gridlock within 10 minutes if we also pedestrianised Parliament Square. Taking that information into account, I urge my noble friend the Minister to please be cautious about any further pedestrianisation. There is a delicate balance between traffic flow and pedestrian safety, which has to be managed with the huge increase in cycling that we all welcome. I hope that all these things will be taken into consideration in any future scheme.

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that traffic modelling is very much part of the design work that is being undertaken, in part for the reasons described. There are clear safety advantages to this proposal, but all these things will be looked at in the balance.

My Lords, I support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about that crossing. It is extremely dangerous, it takes a long time and I am sorry to say to the noble Lord who spoke previously that cyclists seem to pay no attention whatever to a red light. I crossed there a little while ago and a cyclist bore down on me; he did not have a bell but he did shout “ding-ding”.

My Lords, clearly all users of the public highway must adhere to the law. Cyclists should be adhering to the law. I will take back the particular point about pedestrian crossings, but, as I said, there has already been a discussion on those points.