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Updated: Regent’s Park Outer Circle - Georgian quango under fire for refusal to close park gates to curb rat-run danger to cyclists and pedestrians

Meet the CEPC - the unelected body set up in 1813 that is accused of failing in its duty to improve public safety

An unelected and effectively unaccountable Georgian quango  that manages certain roads in and around Regents Park stands accused of failing in its duty to ensure public safety by prioritising rat-running motor traffic over park users through keeping park gates open at rush hour. 

Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle currently sees three times more collisions than the central London average, while police there caught more than 200 drivers last quarter, speeding and driving the wrong way around pedestrian islands, along with 211 prohibited trade vehicle drivers.

Responsibilities of the Crown Estate Paving Commission (CEPC) include opening park gates, which it does from 7am to midnight. Extended gate closures were part of multi-million-pound plans for the delayed Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11), and park campaigners and Transport for London (TfL) say rush hour gate closures alone would reduce collisions, improving air quality and safety for the park’s eight million annual visitors.

However, although the CEPC has said it remains willing to consider gate timings, it has so far refused to do so.

London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, accused the CEPC of failing in its duty of safety. He said: “Closing the gates would save lives. It would mean less collisions, less pollution in the park. It would give Londoners a safe route to get to work or to see their family. It would mean Regent’s Park becomes a park again, as it was originally intended by John Nash when he designed it.

“He would be horrified if he knew what the park had become – a dangerous cut through for impatient drivers to get into central London a few minutes faster in their cars.”

Adrian Jackson, Chair of campaign group Parks for People, which wants extended gate closures in Regent’s Park, told the Outer Circle “becomes quite horrible quite quickly”, in the morning when the gates open.

“There’s cars going around the wrong side of pedestrian islands, there’s an enormous number of trade vehicles. It’s dangerous, it’s making the park a much less pleasant place be,” he said.

"Dangerous" road rife with speeding

There are 7.4 injury collisions per kilometre per year on the Outer Circle, almost three times the 2.6 inner London average – and more than half of vehicles exceed the 30mph speed limit, with drivers recorded in excess of 80mph. Of the 778 tickets or fines issued by police from January to March 2019, 86% were to drivers. 181 drivers were booked for speeding, 41 were caught disobeying directional signs.

The Outer Circle is extremely popular with road cyclists, who use it for training laps, often first thing in the morning, but it is also a commuting route for cyclists. Cyclists are 74% of those injured, which is statistically higher than the London average.

Norman said: “We would like to reduce the volume and speed of traffic to make it safer for all users of the park. We have proposed a varying number of options – closing four gates, but also just two gates. We have proposed varying times for the closures. But the CEPC are unwilling to make any changes and are therefore failing in their duty to improve public safety.”

In January 2018 Max Jack, former CEPC director, said in a Guardian interview: “We were happy to support those [four gate closure] ideas because they had a strong chance of improving the park.”

However, nothing has yet been agreed, 16 months later. In September 2018 the CEPC said it awaits traffic modelling from TfL - but has seen the traffic modelling already provided to CEPC. TfL figures show rush hour gate closures alone won’t tackle collisions, however, which spike between 11am and midday.

So what is the CEPC?

The CEPC, which is unrelated to the Crown Estate, has responsibility for the Outer Circle and certain roads on the periphery of the park, home to some of London's most expensive real estate.

The CEPC has a staff of 30 as well as currently 14 commissioners, 11 of whom are past or present business or domestic residents, the other three being appointed ex-ufficio – the chief executive of The Royal Parks, the head of residential of The Royal Estate, and an MP representing HM Treasury.

Some 1,200 people live in the streets it is responsible for, and have to pay rates to CEPC as well as council tax, without relief, to Camden or Westminster, depending  on which side of the park they live on. 

One resident has said closing gates would amount to creating an ‘open prison’. TfL points out residents could still access the park at all times.

The CEPC was set up in 1813 by an Act of Parliament, initially to care for and maintain the Crown Estate from Whitehall through Regent's Street to Regent's Park. Its members are appointed by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury - a handful of MPs, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Its current area of operation was established by a fresh statute in 1851, with responsibilities including operating the park gates as well as regulating parking and maintaining street lighting and road surfaces .

It is unelected, and immune from Freedom of Information requests, which campaigners say makes it effectively unaccountable. Following the Guardian interview last year the CEPC deleted its Twitter account.

"We take a park view"

In the article, Max Jack, who left the CEPC a month after the article's publication, said: “It’s a recreational space, you want to be safe cycling in a park. Whatever proposals happen, we take a park view: are they going to work for the park, are they going to improve the environment for all park users? That’s our frame of reference.”

Last year London's former cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, wrote the CEPC had "strongly backed the original plan and continues to do so", but was opposed to the "dog's breakfast" of two gates, "because it’s not good enough".

Parks for People says: “One of the key charitable objectives of The Royal Parks charity is to promote the use of the Royal Parks for public recreation, health and well-being. As part of some quirk of regulatory history, they have delegated part of this responsibility (the roads) to the CEPC. It’s time that we held the CEPC accountable to more than just a handful of residents.”

In a letter to City Hall last January, obtained by Freedom of Information request, the CEPC raised concerns about gate closures generating "entrenched opposition from some residents groups concerned by traffic congestion outside the park", adding it wanted to avoid "finding itself enmeshed in any long and costly legal process". 

The CEPC were contacted, but declined to comment for this story.

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