Well-known TV writer and presenter Loyd Grossman CBE delivererd our 2019 Spring Lecture to a large audience gathered in St.Alban’s Church on 12 March. Since 2017 he has been Chairman of the newly created charity The Royal Parks and his talk reflected his thinking about the role of this new institution.
Loyd framed his talk by emphasising the importance of the parks to London’s citizens, but also the scale of task facing the new organisation. The aerial photography of London in Loyd’s slides demonstrated how large a part of London’s surface area is occupied by the Royal Parks, a quarter or a third depending on how you calculate this statistic. The parks are visited by 77 million people every year, (soil compaction is a major problem), and there are 170,00 trees. There are 600 buildings (195 of them listed), and Regents Park has the only breeding population of hedgehogs in central London.
The parks face many threats. Developers eye the parks hungrily and propose schemes, though the Royal Parks are determined to reject any project that will diminish in any way the amount of open or green space. But there are also development threats posed by apparently more benign issues like the pressure for more memorials, and these also present a threat to the open spaces. There are problems of conservation; the threat posed by the oak processionary moth costs the parks £400,000 per annum. The decline in public funding constitutes another important issue: over 15 years public funding, which once provided around 80% of overall funding, has declined to around 40%. This sets up pressure for more use of the parks for events, but this risks reducing the amenity provided to the general public, which is the absolute priority of the trustees of The Royal Parks
Loyd emphasised that the Royal Parks remain a crucial element of the civility that is an essential ingredient of London life. They provide a fundamental element of the well-being of Londoners and visitors, as a space for relaxation, exercise, entertainment and education and all of this is provided to the citizen entirely free of charge. This makes the parks a space in which privilege has no place.
A lively question session followed Loyd’s talk, with questioners evoking issues such as the pressure of development and the problems of the withdrawal of public funding from conservation, which have parallels with the situation of Bedford Park. Loyd’s compelling talk clearly struck chords with the audience, many of whom were still engaged in animated debate around the drinks table late in the evening.
Amongst his current roles Loyd is Chairman of The Royal Parks and President of The Arts Society. His life-long interest in history, the arts and heritage has involved him in a number of organisations in the past, which include his role as Chairman of the Heritage Alliance, Commissioner of the Museums and Galleries Commission, of English Heritage and of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. He was appointed CBE in recognition of his services to Heritage.