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