Athena

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Cul­tural Cru­sader

BRI­TAIN is rightly proud of its Par­lia­ment build­ing. The Palace of West­min­ster has served as a cen­tre of gov­ern­ment for nearly a mil­len­nium and it pre­serves one in­te­rior— West­min­ster Hall, built in the 1090s—that has been the fo­cus of its life for the lion’s share of that time. In its present man­i­fes­ta­tion, how­ever, it is es­sen­tially a Gothic Re­vival master­piece whose clock tower has be­come the phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment of the free world.

All but the most hard­ened of Modernists would be sorry to see this his­toric build­ing re­placed, so, for this rea­son, many bil­lions of tax­payer’s pounds are about to be spent rid­ding it of lethal as­bestos and an en­tan­gle­ment of highly-flammable wiring so that it can con­tinue to func­tion long into the fu­ture.

How­ever, it’s not just the build­ing that is in ur­gent need of ren­o­va­tion. Tourists flood to Lon­don in their mil­lions to find this noble build­ing en­cir­cled by ugly se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers hur­riedly placed here after the hor­rific events of 9/11. Traffic on Par­lia­ment Square roars past on what is, in ef­fect, a four-lane gi­ra­tory sys­tem, cre­ated to take the through traffic away from Cen­tral Lon­don be­fore the M25 was built.

It cuts to pieces an ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­ble of build­ings that ought to be read to­gether with the Palace, in­clud­ing West­min­ster Abbey and the Jewel Tower to the south, the Supreme Court to the west and White­hall to the north.

A suc­ces­sion of Lon­don May­ors has done lit­tle to ad­dress mat­ters. In Par­lia­ment Square it­self, they have left the traffic clogged by poorly se­quenced traffic lights. On the grand scale, they have made no at­tempt to com­mis­sion a proper strate­gic plan of how Lon­don traffic might be bet­ter or­gan­ised to avoid West­min­ster. With tourists tot­ter­ing back­wards through the crowds with their ‘selfie sticks’ ex­tended, the pave­ments are crowded, bar­rier-rid­den and dan­ger­ous. No won­der MPS work­ing in Portcullis House have re­sorted to a tun­nel as an easy means of ac­cess to the Palace proper.

The con­nec­tions be­tween the patches of green in and around the square are also hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate. Those Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans who con­tinue to park their pri­vate cars around the base of Par­lia­ment must be truly de­lighted to es­cape the noisy, fume-rid­den en­vi­ron­ment left for ev­ery­one else.

In any other coun­try, this would be in­stantly recog­nised as the na­tional dis­grace that it surely is. In­deed, the treat­ment of Par­lia­ment Square has be­come an in­ter­na­tional cause of con­cern for UNESCO, which is send­ing a del­e­ga­tion in Fe­bru­ary to re­port on the con­di­tion of what re­mains for now a des­ig­nated World Her­itage Site.

With the great re­fur­bish­ment shortly to be­gin, and at least five years of dis­rup­tion ahead, Athena hopes that this com­plex is­sue can be prop­erly ad­dressed. How de­press­ing it would be if, at the end of this huge pro­ject to im­prove the Palace, we con­front around it the same shame­ful mud­dle that we have to­day.

‘No won­der MPS have re­sorted to a tun­nel as an easy means of ac­cess

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