World Squares For All, the Foster and Partners' masterplan to pedestrianise swathes of historic London, is to go ahead as planned even if deputy prime minister John Prescott's transport white paper is put on the back-burner by Tony Blair.
David Rosenberg of Foster and Partners said last week that the £50 million masterplan, to which Prescott gave his wholehearted backing less than a fortnight ago, was 'beyond politics' and would go forward, with Trafalgar Square the first to receive treatment.
In July the scheme was put in jeopardy when Westminster City Council, one of the eight clients for the wide-ranging report, expressed eleventh- hour anxiety about the effects that the plan would have on traffic in the study area, in the absence of any wider transport measures from the government. Then the project was shifted back on track on 20 August, when Prescott announced his backing for the plan in a handover ceremony with Sir Norman Foster at the National Gallery - a building which under the proposals would benefit from a new pedestrianised link to Trafalgar Square. But press reports last weekend said that Tony Blair had ruled out legislation on Prescott's white paper - including his ideas for road charging for access to city centres - for at least a year, with no guarantee of legislation in the 1999-2000 session.
The masterplan is proceeding apace, however. Rosenberg said the £16 million Trafalgar Square improvements would be the first phase of the plan, involving a road closure at the north of the square, new steps into the square opening up views of the gallery, a new reflecting pool, the potential for new refreshment facilities along the gallery and an improved setting for St Martin-in-the-Fields. A bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for some of the cash for the Urban Design elements of the moves will be made, possibly for a 'core' £4.5 million version (without the steps or pool), next year. A six-month test of the road closure, using traffic cones, will be carried out by the end of next year. The consultants will be paid £451,000 of the £4.6 million core urban-design costs, whereas the average cost for the whole project is £250/m2, which compares 'favourably' with other urban enhancement schemes.
Less publicised elements of the study include a long-term proposal to open up the Treasury courtyard - currently a car park for civil servants - as a new public space with cafes and bars; a move to once again open up Downing Street, getting rid of the security gates; and at the same time installing extensive cctv systems across the study area in a clampdown on security and illegal traders.
Road surfaces will be rethought, with a general move away from tarmac and towards ashphalt and granite setts and 'ceremonial', level surfaces.
Rosenberg added that the street furniture Foster's is developing as part of the scheme could be exported to other historic towns, and that some of the principles of the report could also be readily applied to cities with similar traffic problems. Assessment of the masterplan proposals against its original objectives, however, reveals that it will not reduce air and noise pollution, minimise traffic diversion on to local roads, reduce congestion or improve bus journey times and reliability.