Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 28-39)




  28. Can I welcome you to the Committee and can I ask you to introduce your team, please?

  (Sir Martin Doughty) Thank you, Chairman. Sue Collins, on my left, is our Director of Policy, and Nick Radford is our Regional Policy Officer for London and the South East.

  29. I can read your names, but perhaps you would just give your name, for the record, please?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) And I am Martin Doughty, the Chair of English Nature.

  30. Thank you very much. Is there anything you want to say, in introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) Just to say that English Nature is the Government's nature conservation advisers for England, that we are not just, as is sometimes believed, a body which operates in rural areas but we do indeed operate in urban areas, have urban national nature reserves in some places, that we operate coastal and marine, and that, besides a principal statutory responsibility for looking after special sites, SSSIs, specialised conservation, special protection areas, we also have a great interest in the wider countryside and helping people to understand and enjoy green space in all areas.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Chris Grayling

  31. Sir Martin, if I could start by asking you to develop one or two of the points you made in your submission; clearly, the PPG addresses the issues of sport, open space and recreation, but to what degree does English Nature believe that it provides clear objectives on all of these areas, and are there any particular ways in which you wish to see the PPG improved?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) In terms of the objectives, I think part of the problem is the way that the objectives need to be made operational, they need to come, I think, from a perspective of protecting the open space resource, considering its uses and its benefits, both formal and informal, and, particularly from our point of view, biodiversity interests and other interests, like environmental function. It is how the objectives are made operational, I think, is perhaps the bigger problem; we need to protect the open space, in terms of its recreation value, in terms of its biodiversity value, its environmental value, health of the local community value, and there is a need for a proper assessment of the open space needs and the protections. And there are statements, for instance, that the Department has made which are, indeed, stronger than the sorts of statements in the PPG; so I think there is a recognition in the Department that there is a need for that strengthening. So it is a sort of vision of the different types of open space requirements and how we should look after them, I think, that we would say is important.
  (Ms Collins) Could I perhaps add to that, Chair. We think the words are good in the PPG and we fear the implementation will fall somewhere behind, because there is not enough political commitment there. And we also believe there is a sort of philosophical problem, that the understanding of the real importance of green space is underplayed; it is seen in terms of use value only, and Ms King was saying that her constituents value green space and informal space, they love it, their children want to go and play there and they want to see birds and butterflies and trees, as well as kick a ball, and so on. So all those functions are important. But actually green space in urban areas has a deeper importance, in that it provides a green lung for the city and webs of green space are very important for future economic and social well-being. And so it does need more strategic thinking that is perhaps more philosophically based than the current thinking as displayed in the PPG. So we would like more commitments from the Government; there is a very important commitment, which Sir Paul Beresford mentioned, to formal sport. In addition to that, we would like to see more commitment to protecting the existing, valued green space, we think this is fundamentally important and it is underplayed in the PPG.

  32. So does that suggest that you feel that with the focus on promoting formal recreation and sport some of the attributes of green space, particularly nature conservation, are not getting enough consideration?
  (Ms Collins) I think that is our experience; it is patchy, some local authorities are very good. There is huge potential here, and it is an important issue in towns, in rural areas and in cities and true conurbations, and we would like to see more enhancement, more visionary greening of the cities, that is deep green, not just boring, open space, I think.

Mr Betts

  33. May I follow up a point there. Are you saying to us that you think that it is possible, in one planning guidance, to deal with the whole issue of sport, both major developments of sport as well as the odd football pitch, and the issue of green space, as you have just described it? Is it possible to do that in one planning guidance, or is it simply that the way it is done in this particular planning guidance is wrong?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) It is probably more of the latter, but there is probably also a case for saying you could have a separate PPG for open space, or we would call 'accessible green space', if you want another name for it.
  (Ms Collins) Can I comment on that, too. I think that the issues relating to really big developments that sport needs, built facilities of a grand, kind of stadium kind, are a development issue that the planning system should deal with in a development control way, and local authorities, and it is an investment issue. I think that this PPG can deal with the sort of softer end of sport and recreation that is green space based, and so I would draw the boundary round these as well as nature conservation. I would not ghettoise green space, "nice to view birds and bees", in its own PPG I would have recreational green space and nature conservation green space in this PPG but not big sports facilities—these should be promoted through the normal channels. So, I think, facilities to support local and small sporting and children's recreation, and so on, it sits within this PPG. I think, if you split it off then you go backwards. I think we want more strategic and holistic thinking.

Dr Pugh

  34. You refer to the need to develop "over-arching and integrated spatial and qualitative standards for open spaces", and you clearly do not think the PPG actually gives sufficient guidance on this. How do you think you could provide guidance, and how can the relationship between local and national standards be addressed? I would actually be quite specific about what "over-arching and integrated spatial and qualitative standards" is?
  (Ms Collins) We have done research on the relationship between green space and well-being, and out of that we have put forward ideas to a broad constituency about accessible green space standards. And we have said things like "everybody should live within 300 metres of a couple of hectares of green space; there should be one local nature reserve for every thousand people who live in an area; there should be one 20-hectare space accessible within two kilometres of your home." So we have proposed some numbers. I think David Coleman used a useful word 'benchmark', and I think that is quite a useful concept, because standards and targets have all sorts of institutional problems. But, I think, if you think in terms of local authorities building in those kinds of benchmarks, it could be part of Best Value Performance Indicators for local authorities; and their performance against these could be audited. So I think that we could use existing institutional approaches to encourage this more strategic thinking in local authorities.

  35. You have partly answered my second question, which is, how do you envisage your own national standards being integrated with others at local level, I presume your answer would be through best value, as much as anything else? And, critically, do you actually think there are the resources available at local level to carry out this kind of assessment?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) I think, besides best value there are other mechanisms there. There are the community strategies, and we would want to see, for instance, biodiversity action plans written into those, which, again, the PPG does not pick up. But, in terms of your last point, there are not enough resources; the earlier discussions were talking about whether there should be a local authority strategy, and my background is local government and there is a strategy overload in local government, and what we actually need are strategies that then end up delivering. Perhaps the strategy needs to be almost like a bidding document, in the sense of, for instance, the local transport plans. It is the local authority strategy for transport but it is a bidding document for resources. And that would be very helpful if you could see a way through to end up with something that gives resources, in terms of good planning, good strategies, and best value.

Ms King

  36. I would like to ask you about the management of recreational facilities. What do you think the standards should be, in terms of management, and what would you like to see in the PPG to facilitate them?
  (Ms Collins) Management of green space can be important for biodiversity, so you might need to treat the space, if it was particularly for nature, in a particular way, and that needs perhaps a set of local people who care about that space and who can make it multifunctional and can help to manage it for a number of uses. If you have sports fields then there are other management issues, because, obviously, the priority is to cut the grass, and so on, and the question there is can it be managed so that the edges and the hedges and the walls are less hostile to wildlife, and so on. So I think it is a question of local sensitivity, it is a question of voluntary private/public partnerships, in being kind of sensible and quite forward looking in managing space; and it does need a bit of money.[1] It is probably ways of using existing resources, it is how to do it, and using resources differently. I do not know if Nick has got some examples of that.

  (Mr Radford) If I could just add that I suppose there is a common belief that managing for wildlife is often managing as a wilderness, and that is not the case really at all with English habitats, most of them require some sort of positive management to sustain their interest. Also, managing for nature conservation can often reduce costs, it is not free but there can be a reduction in costs: reduced mowing, reduced picking up leaf litter, reduced use of chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, and so on; so lots of local authorities that are working over London will actually find in the long term there is actually a reduction in costs on parts of their green spaces.


  37. Is it not just an excuse for neglecting parks, you let them go into wilderness and they look a mess?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) No, it is not; it is a matter of managing in a sensitive way, and it is a recognition that local people will use a piece of open green space in a variety of ways, and trying to maximise the flexibility, maximise the use, integrating, in our terms, nature conservation interests into, say, informal recreation, of whatever sort is going on there.

Mrs Ellman

  38. I would like to take you back to the comment you made about perhaps strategies should be bidding documents; is that the way that you think issues of maintenance could be dealt with, maintenance of open space in particular?
  (Sir Martin Doughty) I think it could. I am quite anxious not to have yet another strategy document that does not mean anything, that it just lies on a shelf. It actually should end up as something that gets implemented, at least in part. And if it is a document that ultimately leads to resources coming in, as in a bidding document, then that could, indeed, lead to better maintenance standards. Hopefully, it would be in a fairly holistic way that it was being dealt with, so that the type of maintenance would be appropriate, rather than mowing the bluebells, or whatever.

  39. Do you think that could be incorporated in the PPG or in other parts of the planning process, or is that something outside of that?
  (Ms Collins) I think you asked at the beginning a question, were the objectives of this PPG proper and right, and there is not actually a heading 'Objectives' in this PPG17 that I could find. You need a focus on outcomes, and one of the outcomes we want is better quality green space, which means better management, and that may require both a little bit of investment and some investment in ongoing looking after it; we also need more green space. We are very worried that green space is getting squeezed by the concrete, and actually we need a flip-side, we need in cities to push the concrete a bit and increase the green space.

1   Note by witness: The PPG could deal with these ideas. Back

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