Carlton House Terrace occupies two marvellous rows of Nash-designed stucco houses either side of the Duke of York’s column – but it sits on top of a dirty little secret. Underneath (see above) are its basement buildings which straddle the Mall on both sides of the York steps. At the Trafalgar Square end (left) all is well. The recently re-vamped Mall Galleries are well worth a visit. Next door is the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts). It has known better days as a pioneer of cutting edge art but is still a good place to eat, drink and take in a film or exhibition (membership not required).
But on the other side of the Duke of York’s steps on the Mall (left) all is not well. If you peer through the windows between its classic columns what you will find is not an art gallery or exhibition but . . . a car park. It must be the worst located car park in the whole of London in terms of alternative uses. At a time when London is in the midst of a boom in all things artistic it seems like lunacy to have one of the prime spots in the capital, on land owned by the Queen, used as a car park – and a very long one at that stretching way down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Although I pass by frequently it took me a long time to realise it was a car park at all. It has a very discreet entrance in Carlton House Terrace (right) and most of the windows along the Mall are too high to see through. I imagine that the company that rents it from the Crown Estate must be on a lease but whoever is responsible for it ought to be called to account to explain how it ever became a car park in the first place. And what to do about it.