Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces (Amendment) etc. Regulations 2010 — Motion to Resolve
Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, the Royal Parks comprise over 5,000 acres of historic parkland in and around London. I shall confine my remarks to Richmond Park in the main, but other noble Lords will no doubt talk about Bushy Park. Both parks lie in the London Borough of Richmond but are a pleasure for people in Richmond, Twickenham, Putney and Kingston. Both are of great concern to MPs in the House of Commons, most notably Susan Kramer and Vince Cable. The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames has always had as its motto:
"Where the countryside comes to town".
Richmond Park and Bushy Park are our lungs and our countryside. Besides being areas of great natural beauty, Richmond Park in particular hosts many rare species of plants and insects as well as fine herds of red and fallow deer.
Richmond Park was formed when Charles I decided he wanted a private hunting park. Noble Lords will remember that Charles I had a fine opinion of himself and his powers. He built a high, red-brick wall all around the park, created by the compulsory purchase of a great deal of farmland-to the consternation of local residents who regarded it as a theft of their countryside. Charles was persuaded to put ladders at certain points around the circumference of the park to allow pedestrian access and was forced by public opinion to allow poor people into the park to collect wood for fuel. This permission still exists today. Over 20 years ago, just for fun, I applied to the then Department of the Environment for a permit to collect wood in Richmond Park and was duly issued one. If any noble Lords are desperate in this cold weather, you can only take out as much as you can carry. Do not get too excited about it.
The park carried on as a hunting park for the Royal Family and the aristocracy. Public access became more and more difficult until finally challenged by John Lewis-not of the partnership but a brewer in Richmond. After three years, in 1758 he finally won free access into the park for local people. The park has been open and there has been free access ever since.
The main reason for the changes to the regulations for Richmond Park and Bushy Park is to raise revenue to rebuild the roads in them. These were originally sandy tracks, which have in recent years been covered in tarmac. They have never been properly metalled or constructed. This means that pollutants from the traffic drain into the park, destroying the special grasslands and thus the whole ecology of the park. Traffic has increased hugely over the years. Motorists use the park as a short cut on their journeys in and out of London. Visitors to the park use the car parks.
Sadly, the Royal Parks Agency has presented only one option for consultation, and that is a substantial charge for parking. It did no surveys of the quantity of commuter traffic and counted only the cars that are parked and whose occupants stay in the park for long periods to enjoy the countryside with their families. It even assessed the socio-economic class and ethnicity of the people who use the park to try to justify the imposition of charges. It was a huge, expensive survey giving us only half the story.
Why did it not consider other proposals? It has been suggested in the local press and elsewhere, including by local people, that it is the rat-runners through the park who should pay a charge towards the upkeep of the roads, not the people who drive a short distance from their nearest gate to a car park and walk or picnic in the park for long periods. Tens of thousands of people use the park as a short cut every week, never stopping at all. A scheme has been suggested using modern scanning technology to charge motorists who stay, say, less than half an hour in the park. It is used elsewhere and it could be used in the parks-a toll charge in other words. We pay one quite happily to cross the Severn Bridge. Why was this not considered and why was the survey not completed?
It has also been suggested that a special fundraising committee be set up to raise money for the park. The Government do not allow museums to charge for entry, so why allow the Royal Parks to do so? Museums have always raised funds by public subscription, as, for that matter, have universities. Why not the Royal Parks?
There is little or no public transport to Richmond Park, in particular, so people have no alternative but to use their cars, and charges would disproportionately affect those on low incomes and of course the elderly and disabled. Over many years, we have been promised transport to the park and, indeed, within the park by the Royal Parks Agency but it has never happened. Even if we had a bus, it would still be difficult to take several small children and the dog to the park for the day. I repeat: it is our countryside.
I wish to make one final point. As pointed out by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who cannot be here today because of family illness, car-parking charges would have an unneighbourly effect-indeed, it is mentioned in the consultation-as people find out that they can avoid the charge by using the streets around the park. Residents' parking schemes would have to be extended to weekends and holidays, and even to Christmas Day and Boxing Day, when residents make maximum use of the park. That would cause maximum disruption for the residents living around the park.
The Tory Motion expresses unhappiness with the parking charges. It regrets the measure and asks the Government to withdraw it, but wishes to retain the other changes in the regulations enabling a reduction in speed limits and other improvements to the public amenity in the Royal Parks. Let us take a brief look at some of these. They include prohibiting the sailing of model boats in any pond except the model boating pond. That does not sound too crucial or urgent to me, unless of course noble Lords on the Conservative Benches spend their entire weekends sailing model boats on forbidden waters in the Royal Parks.
Another new regulation exempts horse owners riding in the park from the obligation to clear up their horses' manure. In the 35 years that I have walked in Richmond Park, I have never seen a rider dismount to collect the horse manure. My husband, who has an allotment, would do it like a shot but he does not ride horses in Richmond Park and horse riders are not lobbying urgently on this issue. I have not had a single letter about it.
Speed limits in Greenwich Park are important but the Government could bring in a statutory instrument to cover this and other issues next week if they wished.
The Conservative Motion will do nothing except enshrine car-parking charges in Richmond Park and the Royal Parks, and Bushy Park in particular. The Government will not withdraw anything. If the Conservatives win the general election-it is quite a big if nowadays-I cannot see this piece of legislation about car-parking charges in Richmond and Bushy parks being top of David Cameron's list the day after the election. I cannot imagine him saying, "What must we do first? Yes, we must go for those parking charges". He will have many more problems to deal with than that one. We read in Conservative leaflets that they will "review" the charges, but that is hardly a commitment to get rid of them.
It is said that fatal amendments have been won on only three occasions. So what? With your Lordships' support we can make it four times and force, not ask, the Royal Parks Agency and the Government to think again and look at better and fairer options. I understand the Official Opposition's reluctance to support a fatal amendment lest we get into the habit of tabling them when and if they gain power, but this is something called democracy. We are able to do this; it is on the Order Paper. I urge the House to support our fatal Motion and ask the Royal Parks Agency to prove that it is fit for purpose by taking a fresh look at methods of raising revenue for the Royal Parks. Let us have a bit of imagination and lateral thinking for a change, instead of going for the easiest and most unjust solution. I beg to move.
Lord Howard of Rising (- Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for Treasury and Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister; Conservative)
My Lords, these regulations end free access to two great Royal Parks. They symbolise all that is wrong with the hole in the heart where new Labour's sense of tradition and fairness should be found. They are proposed by Mrs Hodge, whose base is on the other side of London in Barking. There are two visitors' car parks in Barking Park and I am told that there is no parking charge. Mrs Hodge spoke last weekend about the need to hear and respond to local people's concerns. What a pity that she was speaking only about Barking. Why will her Government not listen to local concerns when they come from Twickenham, Putney, Richmond and Kingston?
I hope that the House will reach a common resolve tonight to ask the Government to withdraw these regulations but, first, I shall speak briefly to the Motion moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. This asks your Lordships-the unelected House-to reject a statutory instrument for only the fourth time in their history. The Liberal Democrat website rants about "betrayal" if your Lordships do not take this extreme step. Mr Cable, a local Member of Parliament-he must have escaped from the green room at BBC's "Newsnight"-says that it will be "silly politics" if we do not veto the elected House's regulations tonight. Mrs Kramer says that she is "utterly shocked" at the idea that your Lordships should not throw out secondary legislation. "Silly", "shock", "betrayal"-the Liberal Democrats never knowingly underegg a pudding; they protest far too much. Insults have never won arguments in your Lordships' House. I do not remember Mr Asquith or Mr Lloyd George saying that it would be betrayal or silly politics for this House not to veto a money-raising order from another place. In 1908, long before the People's Budget, Mr Asquith told cheering Liberal MPs:
No doubt Mr Cable would have been tut-tutting behind Mr Asquith's back, rather as he does now behind Mr Clegg.
However, I think this House should ask the Government to think again. That is why I have tabled a second Motion tonight, which I ask my noble friends to support. There are some good things in the regulations. Unlike the Liberal Democrats, we have no wish to deprive children of the pleasure of sailing boats on the model pond in Bushy Park-children doing so is actually rather a charming thought-we have no wish to stop private-hire vehicles driving in Richmond Park; and we have no wish to stop a 20-mile-an-hour speed limit in Greenwich Park. All those things would be killed by the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. We ask the Government to re-lay the statutory instrument without charges on access to Bushy and Richmond parks. My party has always opposed such charges, unlike the Liberal Democrat Richmond Council, which astonishingly wrote to the parks agency offering to send officers to help to design the charges. In consultation, 84 per cent of local people were against charges. Only a fatally arrogant Government would ignore such a majority.
Ministers have two arguments: first, the Royal Parks Agency needs cash to do up its car parks and roads; and secondly, west London people are rich and can afford to pay. Neither stands up. Few things exemplify waste more than the slow urbanisation of our great London parks. Richmond and Bushy parks are beautiful because they are open and wild. Who wants tarmacked car parks, uniformed traffic wardens, bright spotlights and surveillance cameras? If we are looking for spending cuts, surely this is where to begin.
On the upkeep of roads, why place a burden on local people who love the parks? If you really want someone to pay, why not the commuters, as the noble Baroness has suggested, who stream across the park daily without ever stopping? A simple toll could be operated with a sticker, from which the residents of neighbouring boroughs could be exempt. Such charges would raise just £345,000. A good proportion of that could be raised by voluntary contributions. If money must be found, let us have a more imaginative policy than dumping railway station-style car parks in our parks.
The second argument is that people can afford it. Middle England has heard plenty of that kind of argument in the past 13 years. Look where it has got us: we are taxed to the gills and £187,000 million a year deeper in debt. Mrs Hodge says that 88 per cent of car park users are ABC1. What kind of argument is that? A bad tax is no better because those who pay it work hard.
Look at the facts: 50 per cent of visitors driving into Richmond Park stay for one to two hours; 66 per cent come at least once a week; and a quarter-dog walkers, nature lovers, people who just like open space-come almost every day. Under these proposals they would pay over £450 a year. An analysis by my honourable friend Justine Greening MP suggests that two-thirds of park visitors would pay more than £100 a year. The average cost would be £213. One of the last free pleasures would suddenly cost a great deal. "Find out what they are doing and tax it", I am afraid, will be Gordon Brown's sad epitaph.
This pointless measure is also an affront to an old, hard-fought-for privilege of the many, not the few. The Minister lists walking as his recreation. I wonder whether, as a walker, the Minister has the independence of mind to set aside his brief and say, "Yes, we will think again". We have only eight more weeks of this Government, so there is nothing to lose and a lot of personal respect to win.
Bushy Park is 10 times the size of the Vatican City state and Richmond Park is five times the size of Monaco. If you are old, frail or ill or a woman with a child in a buggy there are parts of the park to which you cannot have access without a car. Such people should not be denied free access. Free access was won in the 18th century by two people, John Lewis and Timothy Bennet, who would once have been the heroes of Labour but whose legacy new Labour wants to set aside. John Lewis, already referred to by the noble Baroness, was a local resident who, in 1758, won a case against a Richmond Park ranger who tried to keep him out. The court ordered entry to the park to be free for all people. The judge said of the entrance:
"I desire, Mr Lewis, that you would see it so constructed that not only children and old men, but old women too",
may enter. How sad that 250 years later a Labour Government should again raise barriers against children, old men and old women who enjoy the heart of the park free of charge. Timothy Bennet was described by Gentlemen's Magazine as,
"the honest presbyterian cobler of Hampton Court, who obtained a free passage thro' Bushey park which had many years been with-held from the people".
When asked why, he ventured to say that ordinary people should have free access to Bushy Park. Bennet said:
"I am unwilling to leave the world a worse place than I found it".
Free access was duly restored. Now, 250 years later, a Labour Government should not be trying to deny free access again.
I urge the Minister, as a walker, to honour the memory of two simple men who fought for the right of free access for many in the 18th century-to withdraw this statutory instrument and to think again. If he does not, I urge noble Lords to pass our Motion tonight. In so doing, I say bluntly to the management of the Royal Parks Agency, whom I trust read our debates, that-in spite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, says-if a Conservative Government are elected on
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon (Labour)
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of my local amenity group, the Teddington Society. Teddington lies to the north of Bushy Park in the borough of Richmond. For the past several months, we have been campaigning in association with the Friends of Bushy and Home Parks, the Hampton Wick Association and the Hampton Hill Association and with local MPs, such as Vince Cable, and parliamentary candidates, such as the Zac Goldsmith, against the introduction of parking charges in Bushy and Richmond Parks.
Bushy Park does not have the same high profile as Richmond, but is much prized by the people of Teddington and the surrounding areas as, in effect, our local countryside. For noble Lords who are not familiar with the area, Bushy Park lies to the north of Hampton Court Palace and was originally part of its deer park and hunting grounds. It has some attractive 18th century features, including a recently restored cataract, various ponds and a woodland with a meandering stream. However, it is largely used as a source of recreation by local families who wish to bring their children to feed the ducks, to picnic, to fish in the ponds, to run about, or to play on the swings and see-saws in the playground.
As a nation, we constantly express concern about obese children and the lack of opportunities for children to take exercise informally. Bushy Park goes a long way to counter those problems. To have those open-ended activities constrained by concerns about parking meters would alter the whole nature of the experience and relationship with the park.
The Minister in another place has argued that there are good public transport links to Bushy Park. These consist of one bus an hour on the north side of the park and would then require a parent with small children to walk the mile to the south side of the park to the children's playground. I understand the financial difficulties of the royal parks but spending nearly £3 million on an unpopular scheme of parking meters and supervision is not the only possible solution. Bushy Park is bisected by a commuter route that is a short cut to Hampton Court Bridge. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of car drivers use this route every day. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, suggested, it would be possible to introduce a charge using modern technology such as the congestion charge which would surely enable a toll to be placed on all cars entering the park and would not jeopardise the relationship between local residents and the park. I hope that my noble friend will give further thought to the need to introduce this statutory instrument.
Baroness Butler-Sloss (Crossbench)
My Lords, I want to speak about Richmond Park. For more than 70 years I have enjoyed Richmond Park-as a small child, as I grew older and indeed, today, well not today exactly but recently. I have been a regular visitor to Richmond Park. I have walked, walked the dog, and had picnics. I have cycled, ridden horses from the local stables and I even skated on Penn Pond and tried to ski, but not very effectively, along with many others who took advantage of the snow in that year.
It is not only people who live in the west of London who use the park. I now live in the City and I still go there, so I would be slightly sad if only local residents had a right to go and enjoy the park without having to pay a toll. As has already been said, Richmond Park and, indeed, Bushy Park, which I do not know so well, are wonderful places. But more importantly, they fulfil a need for the public to have recreation and exercise. That is one of the things that governments support, for goodness' sake. To have a toll on it is sad. As a former resident and going back now, I cannot remember a single bus that goes anywhere near any of the gates. I am thinking of Kingston, Richmond, Roehampton, Robin Hood and Sheen. There is a long walk. In Richmond, for example, there is no bus to take you up the hill to the Richmond gate. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest, as the Explanatory Memorandum says in paragraph 7.1 that,
"introducing parking charges in Richmond and Bushy Park is intended to encourage visitors to consider means of travelling to the parks other than by private car".
Even if you ride you have to park your car beforehand, and, unless you are a cyclist, how do you take your picnic, dog, children and grandchildren to spend half a day in the park? There is no reasonable way to get there. The suggestion in paragraph 8.5 that discussions on improving bus services are being reopened is pie in the sky. That has been tried before and has never happened. This is not about the land train to go once round the park, which might be nice, but which would take up space, but the facilities to get to the park. As it happens the only way to get there to enjoy it is to go by car.
It is extraordinarily sad, as other speakers have said, that this Government should want to deprive people of free access to one of the great amenities of west London. It is absolutely extraordinary that this Government would want to do that, and to take no notice of the 84 per cent of the respondents to the consultation who objected. Generally, cars are full of families, dogs and children, out for a happy day for picnics. It is a delightful and utterly respectable outing for families, so it is inappropriate and very unfair to have these regulations. I urge the Government to withdraw and reconsider them.
Lord Watson of Richmond (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I start by declaring two interests. First, I have been a resident of Richmond for 45 years and have gained tremendous pleasure from Richmond Park as has my family as they grew up. I know Richmond Park much better than Bushy Park, but for those who have not visited Richmond Park it is an astonishing place and a discovery. It is an extraordinary space in the heart of Greater London.
I have a second interest to declare which is that I am chairman of Arcadia, which is the project implementing the Thames Landscape Strategy from Hampton Court to Kew. It is a project that has raised more than £4 million and has involved 105,000 volunteer hours, and it has been a tremendous success. Our report on the Arcadia project states that that reach of the River Thames flows through one of the largest open public spaces in London, which is an area that is unique in its combination of landscaped gardens, habitats, parks and vistas. Richmond Park and Bushy Park are integral to both the project and concept of Arcadia. It has been said of this English landscape and its environmental significance that it is one of the most important and influential gifts that England has given the world, along with the English language and democratic parliamentary government. I am pretty keen on the English language and pretty keen on parliamentary government, and this is the third part of the trilogy.
It is entirely appropriate and proper that Parliament has a chance tonight to stop this proposal to impose car parking charges in the parks. The environment and the views of Arcadia were first protected by an Act of Parliament just over 100 years ago-indeed, it was a measure introduced in the House of Lords. It was partly to mark the 100th anniversary that we started the Arcadia project in 2002. That Act of Parliament specifically safeguarded the view from Richmond Hill-the view from the terrace and gardens that abut the park. Richmond Park is the great space that lines and protects the Thames landscape. It covers 2,500 acres, which is arguably the biggest park in London, with vistas unmatched and treasured by every generation since Charles I was first challenged to open it to the public. The thrust of Arcadia has been to restore the vistas that link the area, including incidentally the view from the park to St. Paul's Cathedral, and to enhance access. This has happened with astonishing speed and success. Yet-I address particularly the Government Front Bench-tonight we have a move to impose via the Royal Parks Agency substantial charges for parking, which would put a price on access. It is a proposal which can and should be stopped unequivocally tonight.
Why? The aim of this proposal is to raise money for a number of purposes, but arguably the most important would be to improve the roads that criss-cross the parks, which are of course already heavy with passing traffic. In effect, these motorists are taking a short cut through the park. Yet, those who come to visit, to view and to enjoy the park will be penalised, but not the motorists who are passing through.
This is a quite extraordinary proposal. What would be the result if this happens? Hundreds of thousands of people visit the parks. If they are deterred by the charges, which will be substantial, as has already been quoted, they will either not come, which would be a terrible pity, or they will park in neighbouring streets, greatly add to congestion in those streets and inconvenience the residents. There is huge concern about this issue among these residents. The figure of 84 per cent has already been quoted today. There is well nigh universal opposition to this proposal.
Now we come to the strange business of the Conservative Motion. Why are the Conservatives not joining us tonight in support of this fatal Motion? There is a clue in the fact that thousands of households in the Richmond Park constituency have today received a notice. It is described as an "important notice" and comes from the prospective parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park. In bold print he declares:
"The Conservative Party is absolutely committed to scrapping the charges-if we win the election".
There is the rub. He then adds,
"and we are trying to stop the charges even before then".
I suppose that the "before then" means winning the election.
If that is the case, why do we have this regret Motion? To regret is one thing; to stop it altogether is another. So why propose a feeble Motion instead of a fatal Motion? Why so queasy? I am told that fatal Motions do not appeal. They are perhaps too brutal, too bold and too decisive. The position tonight is clear. We should not regret: we should act and stop this proposed tax-because that is what it is-on the public spaces that so delight.
Free access to Richmond Park and Bushy Park needs to be preserved and protected for all who want to visit and enjoy what the young Alexander Pope called the brightest beauties-superior to "distant fields". It was so then. It is so now.
Lord Brett (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. In particular, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for her contribution. I know that she is a great supporter of the royal parks and Richmond Park in particular. I got clearly from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, if I did not realise it before, that there will be a general election. It will not be more keenly fought or fought with more passion than in the Richmond area. That is clear also from the contributions.
All contributions made clear just how much the royal parks are cherished, not only in this House but by the millions of people who visit them every year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, pointed out, each of the eight parks consists of a listed landscape, and they comprise 5,000 acres. They are enjoyed as places of relaxation, recreation and retreat, and they provide a backdrop to many ceremonial events. As the noble Baroness rightly said, they also provide valuable conservation areas and important habitats for wildlife.
A number of passionate views have been expressed today opposing the parking charges for Richmond Park and Bushy Park. I have not found the arguments particularly compelling, for reasons which I hope to explain. First, in recognition of the special nature of Richmond Park in particular, but also Bushy Park, Richmond is particularly unusual in that it has a triple whammy: it is a designated site of special scientific interest, a national nature reserve and a European special area of conservation. As long ago as 1996, Dame Jennifer Jenkins in a report on Richmond Park stated:
"Measures must be taken to alleviate existing pressures and ... to prevent future traffic growth".
The report went on to say that in cities and elsewhere, charges have become an acceptable means of sharing the use of existing parking space and encouraging some people to make greater use of public transport. Richmond Park should be no different. She also made observations about Bushy Park.
Anyone visiting the parks can see the obvious negative impact of traffic. It is not unusual to see cars queuing along the road outside the park waiting to enter the car parks. At popular times, parking areas can be full by mid-morning. Not only does that diminish the special ambiance of the parks, but it leads to degradation of the roads and the car parks, as has been emphasised by several speakers. It is estimated that £2.7 million is needed to be spent to bring the car parks in Richmond Park up to an acceptable standard, including-this is an important point-installing environmentally appropriate petrol interceptor drainage that will reduce the pollutants entering the soil, which the noble Baroness mentioned in her opening speech. Maintaining the roads, the car parks and other park infrastructure is an ongoing process. The fabric is under constant pressure. It is estimated that the accumulated works maintenance and liability across the royal parks is £58 million.
Noble Lords have referred to access. The royal parks are free to everyone and will remain so. There is no question of access being denied. We are looking at the cars that enter not for access but to park. We do not want to create barriers to people visiting the park. We want to encourage people to visit by means other than their car when they can. As has been quoted in the percentage figures, I recognise that there has been a great deal of local opposition to introducing charges. In some ways that is not really surprising.
Who enjoys paying for parking, particularly if it has been free in the past? But it is wrong to suggest that what is being proposed for Richmond Park and Bushy Park is in any way exceptional. It is not. All the other royal parks with public parking provision-Greenwich, Regent's Park and Hyde Park-charge for parking and have done so for a number of years. In the past three years, parking in those car parks delivered to the agency a net income of £1.4 million, all of which was reinvested into the parks. Many local authorities, public bodies and private facilities charge for parking. In and around Richmond and in Bushy Park, the parks could be said to be unusual in that parking remains free.
Much has been made of the substantial charges being made. It has been suggested that it was wrong in some way to measure the socio-economic background of people using the park. But, as one of the criticisms was a fear that poor people, rather than less-poor people, would be particularly impacted, it was sensible to find out who uses the park on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, I do not apologise for that inquiry or for the results which show very much that socio-economic groups A, B and C use the park most extensively, whereas socio-economic groups D and E use them only to the extent of 4 per cent or 5 per cent.
The proposed level of charge is 50 pence for an hour, up to a maximum of £2 for a whole day in Bushy Park, and £1 an hour, up to an all-day maximum of £3 in Richmond Park, which I would argue is not excessive. Indeed, it is and will remain less than that for other royal parks. Blue badge holders will not be charged for parking. The charges are not set in a manner that would make them punitive, but we lack some form of deterrent. At the moment, there is no disincentive whatever to bringing your car into the park, even for those who live a short distance away. It is estimated that 17 per cent of the users of Richmond Park and 31 per cent of the users of Bushy Park live within a mile of the parks.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, went to great trouble to look up my hobbies-I am very flattered-and he pointed out that walking is one of them. Yes, it is, and I recommend Talkin Tarn, which is the remainder of an Icelandic lake near Brampton in Cumbria. You cannot get there by public transport but you can park your car, for which you are charged. I recommend it as a place to walk round; it is spectacular. It is in the charge and ownership of Cumbria County Council, and therefore Cumbria taxpayers like me pay council tax and also pay for the privilege of parking there.
The Royal Parks do not belong to the borough of Richmond or to the people of London; they are national treasures which belong to all of us. The good burghers of Richmond in Yorkshire are paying the same contribution as the burghers of Richmond in Surrey, so, in that sense, the charges cannot be excessive.
The question of public transport links to Richmond and Bushy Parks brought out a great deal of sympathy among noble Lords. Several bus routes stop within walking distance to the parks but I accept that, for some people, travelling there by public transport could be inconvenient. The Royal Parks Agency has offered to accommodate a public bus service to Richmond Park, subject to appropriate support from local authorities and transport for riders. I understand that negotiations are ongoing-I do not necessarily share the pessimism of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on this-and that the agency is also looking at the viability of a land train through Richmond Park.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, referred to the problem of displacement. One can see that people have a reasonable concern that all that will happen is that drivers who do not want to pay the charge will park their cars in the surrounding streets. The agency realised that that concern had some traction-if you will pardon the pun-and so commissioned independent research on the issue. That research came to the conclusion that displacement parking in the streets around the parks was unlikely to occur as a result of charging. The boroughs surrounding the parks have a range of parking control measures at their disposal already, including controlled parking zones, of which some are already in place.
On the issue of bus services in the areas of the parks, I am told that 10 bus routes run in the vicinity of Richmond Park and a dozen in the vicinity of Bushy Park. While the railway stations around Richmond Park are some distance away, the stations around Bushy Park are only some 15 minutes away. It is true, as has been said, that this will have some impact on those who are physically impaired and on families who have to carry their goods for picnic. If you are going for a picnic and a day out in London in 2010, the imposition of a charge of £2 for Bushy Park and £3 for Richmond Park does not appear unreasonable.
The key point of toll roads was made eloquently by both my noble friend Lady Hilton and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, in moving her Motion. We considered the issue of using road tolls as an alternative in both 1998 and the early part of this century. I can see why the suggestion would be supported by those who would prefer it to the parking charge, but when we tested this in 2002 only 20 per cent of those consulted had a favourable view of road tolls and 67 per cent opposed them. So if we introduced them, all we would do is change the lobby of opposition from static to mobile and from the immediate environs of Richmond and Bushy Parks to a slightly wider area. Although the issue may be looked at again in future, at present there are no plans for toll roads.
It has also been suggested that the measure is being forced on the agency because of cuts in its aid grant and a demand that it raises more of its own revenue. It is true that the Royal Parks have been highly successful in raising income-from £3 million in 1997-98 to £13 million in 2008-09. This has reduced the agency's dependency on the public purse, which must be a good thing as we go into an era of greater public stringency in the revenue and income available for investment in public services, a point which has been stressed in particular by the opposition parties. However, the key is that the agency invests back into the Royal Parks all the moneys that are raised.
The proposals that we are putting forward in these park regulations are about managing the parks for the benefit of the present and future generations. Some have criticised the proposals as exceptional and unreasonable; I hope that I have proved that they are not inasmuch as they already exist in other Royal Parks. As I have said, the Royal Parks are funded by central government and have an international reputation. They need to be continually managed in the light of new challenges and the changes in behaviour of visitors, or the danger is that we will destroy the very things that we value so much.
Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. In particular, it was a great pleasure to hear the warm words said about Richmond and Bushy Parks. The Minister has not addressed the issue of the pressure caused by through traffic using the park as part of the road network. This is a problem for Richmond Park. The problem is not the people who go to the car parks to enjoy the park for the day and to picnic, it is the through traffic-and that does not apply to all parks.
The Conservatives seem to agree with us on every point-there is no dissent on the issue whatever-except that they are too scared to support a fatal amendment which would stop the Government in their tracks and make them, when and if they win the general election, rethink this question and consider tolls instead of car park charges.
There would have been no debate on this issue if I, a former Member of Parliament for Richmond Park-yes, Richmond Park-had not been persuaded by the present Member for Richmond Park, Susan Kramer, to table this fatal amendment. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Motion to Resolve
Moved By Lord Howard of Rising
That this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government have laid before Parliament the draft Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces (Amendment) etc. Regulations 2010 despite the public objections to the imposition of parking charges in Richmond Park and Bushy Park; and therefore calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft Regulations and to replace them with Regulations that do not contain such parking charges, but which enable the reduction of speed limits and other improvements to public amenity in the Royal Parks.