The royal parks are maintained by the Government on behalf of the nation. The Royal Parks Agency consults a wide range of organisations in a number of different ways. They include major formal consultation exercises, statutory consultation with locally elected representatives, and less formal meetings with a wide range of local interest groups and individuals.
The Minister will know that the closure of the Robin Hood gate has caused serious congestion and road safety issues in my constituency. How can that process properly reflect local residents' views when it ignores Wandsworth borough council, which is against the closure; ignores me, not just as a candidate but as, now, an elected Member of Parliament representing residents who want the gate to be reopened; and ignores residents such as Mr. and Mrs. Cobb of Ponsonby road? They have written twice to Lord McIntosh, the previous Minister, and have not even received a reply. They describe the current situation as chaos, and, more important, say:
"It is almost inevitable that one day there will be a serious personal accident. The biggest fear is for pedestrians and, of course, for children at the Primary School"— that is, Roe Church primary school.
No environmental or road safety assessment has been carried out. Will the Minister undertake those assessments and reconsider his decision?
The road has been closed since 2003. There has been an assessment, and there are certainly no safety concerns.
In making a judgment, I had to bear in mind that people were using the road and not stopping in Richmond park, and also that this was a site of great scientific interest. It is to conserve the park, not just for the people of Richmond but for the people of the nation, that the gate remains closed.
The hon. Lady asked about consultation. My predecessors did consult. That is why the Friends of Richmond Park support my decision.
As one who represents a large number of deer in one of the royal parks, may I ask whether the Minister realises that the wider function to which he referred is being seriously undermined by a huge maintenance backlog of about £110 million, further increased by cuts this year and the need to assume all the liabilities incurred from the fiasco of the Diana memorial fountain? What is the Minister doing about that?
When he visits the park on Thursday, will the Minister make the time and the effort to look at the impact of increased traffic not only outside the Roehampton gate in the constituency of Justine Greening, but outside the Kingston gate in my constituency? It is a 20 per cent. increase, in a residential area with schools. Does the Minister agree that the decision to close the road permanently without co-operating to introduce and fund traffic management is not acceptable?
No, I do not agree. The park has been there since 1635. We cannot condone a situation in which local people use it as a rat run and it is not available to those of us who wish to conserve it. Traffic issues outside the park are rightly a matter for the local authority, but I remind the hon. Lady that my decision is supported by English Heritage, English Nature, the Royal Parks wildlife group and the Richmond Park green voice group.
Perhaps we can get away from the Richmond park mafia for a moment or two. I draw the Minister's attention to the Live8 concert taking place in Hyde park, and to the "Frieze Art" exhibition in Regent's park this October. In neither case has there been any sense of the local community's views being represented. Will the Minister investigate this issue, particularly in view of the Hyde park commercialisation debate that I led in this place last year, which was replied to by his former ministerial colleague, Estelle Morris? She gave a clear indication that local residents' associations and amenity societies would be informed of any events taking place in the royal parks.
It is of course important that local people be kept informed about events in Hyde park, and I undertake to look into this issue. But the hon. Gentleman will doubtless be pleased that the number of events in Hyde park has fallen from 14 in 2002 to the current figure of seven. He will also be pleased to learn that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer undertook to ensure that after Live8, the park be returned to its previous condition.