The Royal Parks

Posted on September 6th, 2011 by Charles Boot

In the eighteenth century, Queen Caroline is said to have asked the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, how much it would cost to close St James’ Park to those members of the public who were fortunate enough to be key-holders. The reply, “Only three Crowns, Ma’m”, was apparently sufficient to deter her ambition. Today, the future of the Royal Parks is again in doubt: not their continued existence of course, but the way in which they will be managed on behalf of the public.

In recent years the Royal Parks Agency has come to be seen as a standard-bearer for informed historic landscape conservation, striking the not always easy balance between preserving historic fabric and meeting the needs of contemporary Londoners and tourists. The inspiring work being undertaken at Kensington Palace, about which we heard at the GHS Study Day in November 2010, is just one such example of this approach.

The proposal, now seemingly a ‘done deal’ to transfer management of the Royal Parks to the Greater London Assembly (GLA) calls the management style of the parks into question. Commercial interests, and particularly the hosting of an increased number of large-scale events in the parks could have a significant impact both on the character and fabric of the parks, and the level of public access within them. The London Olympics next summer will be a significant test of the public’s reaction to this phenomenon, as almost every Royal Park will be hosting some aspect of the Games. At the same time, pressure on places such as Green Park and St James Park to become the repository for an ever-increasing number of public monuments (to the detriment of their historic character and fabric) continues, and requires a robust planning regime. We shall, along with the London Parks and Gardens Trust, be watching developments with great attention.

Jonathan Lovie

First published in GHS news 87 Spring 2011

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