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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001

MS CLARE HENNESSEY, MR MARTIN ELLIOT AND MR DAVID MEIGH

Chairman

  120. I am sure we would like to hear the views of both of you, so whichever one gets in first. If you agree there is no need to repeat it, but we got the impression that there is a slight divergence, shall we say, between the two of you.
  (Mr Meigh) I am on the opposite side of the table. I am a leisure officer rather than a planner. Our authority has had a mix and match approach. We have used the NPFA and then we have tried to do a top-up for amenity open space which is the more casual—the dog walking area. We are in the middle of a green belt review and the local plan is on hold pending the green belt review. We have tried this mix and match approach of the NPFA and a local top-up and have found it is not very satisfactory, so we are looking towards a hybrid of that and have the two together and make it a requirements that the developers will provide NPFA standards plus additional open space for more casual use. If the PPG allows us to do that I think that will be welcomed.

  121. So you would be saying six acres plus?
  (Mr Meigh) Yes.

  122. Plus what?
  (Mr Meigh) Anywhere between 0.4 and 0.9 of a hectare.

  123. That is nicely done to confuse me. I presume it confuses everybody else.
  (Mr Meigh) Six acres is 2.4 hectares, so going up to around the three hectare mark. The variation is due to whether it is a brownfield or a greenfield site and to give some flexibility depending on existing open space in that area as well.

Mr Betts

  124. So you do not want national standards laying down as far as I can see.
  (Mr Meigh) I suppose you could say we want to have our cake and eat it. We like both. We want some guidance on the minimum. We failed to meet NPFA in most of our wards, so it is a real problem. We need that extra flexibility to add on local discretion.

Mr Cummings

  125. Why did you feel the NPFA standard would help?
  (Mr Meigh) The view from our planners is that it gives them a defensible standard in inquiries. If you go out on your own, making your own local judgements, that is more open to challenge, so by having a standard that is nationally recognised and quite well adopted, when it comes to challenges from developers —

  126. Are you concerned about being challenged?
  (Mr Meigh) The authority is, yes.

  127. Why?
  (Mr Meigh) I suspect because they feel that they would have fewer grounds for defending their own standards.

Mr Betts

  128. Surely if you did a local assessment and you went for it without the UDP that would equally stand at any inquiry?
  (Mr Elliot) It depends how robust that local assessment has been. What Leeds has found is that NPFA has been quite a comfort to them. We have not actually adopted NPFA standards within our UDP. We have gone for more of what we call an accessibility matrix which protects green space based on how close it is to home. We should have a certain amount of green space within 50 metres of home, within 200 metres of home, within 400 metres of home, and accord each parcel of open space within the district within that matrix.

Mrs Dunwoody

  129. That is not very flexible, is it? You are saying it is a kind of comfort blanket. We all say, in case anybody questions us, we must have something we can quote. You are saying that we must have flexibility except that we are going to lay down 200, 400 and 600 metres. Is there not a mild contradiction?
  (Mr Elliot) I am not sure what you mean by a contradiction.

  130. Are you saying in effect that you are happier with a clear statement that you can quote that is outside your own involvement, and then you want to add a little bit on, or are you saying, "Give us the use of our own local plans and then we will move on from there"?
  (Mr Elliot) I think it depends on the justification of need because while Leeds City Council protects an awful lot of green space within its district it does not necessarily have all the robust justification for the amount of protection in terms of the needs assessment.

  131. So you need a comfort blanket?
  (Mr Elliot) So the NPFA does in fact provide a comfort blanket to say, "You have this amount of hectares per thousand of population". Within those accessibility standards we do readily have a needs assessment. This piece of green space is required not only because it meets our accessibility standard but because of the value that is placed upon it.[1]

Mr Betts

  132. So you really do not need national standards because you have not done the job of proper assessment?
  (Mr Elliot) We have not done an assessment absolutely in terms of assessing each part of green space because of the resource implications involved.

Sir Paul Beresford

  133. If you have your comfort blanket and you have got greater provision, does that not make you easily vulnerable from the other direction?
  (Mr Meigh) Over provision tends to be protected by other guidance, like green belt, in the York case anyway given the nature of the layout of the city. It is generally within the green belt.

  134. So you do not need a security blanket?
  (Mr Meigh) Not in terms of those pieces of land. I am sorry for confusing people. We have used the NPFA standards as the basis for our assessment. We have taken the standards, done an audit of open space, done travel times and distances to it and that —

  135. Have you done an assessment of need?
  (Mr Meigh) Need is incredibly difficult to define.

  136. Have you done an assessment of usage and potential usage? I would have thought that would be core to your assessment of need. Offices and businesses are great but businesses do not actually get on the football team mostly, especially if they are mine.
  (Mr Meigh) Sorry; I missed that.

Chairman

  137. I think we should move on.
  (Ms Hennessey) Can I add a point about the value of having a standard? I think it is a bit more than a safety blanket. These standards have been drawn up on the basis of quite substantial research, particularly the NPFA standard but I am also thinking about the standard that we have inherited in our strategic guidance from the former Greater London Council, the open space hierarchy, which was drawn up on the basis of very substantial survey work. There is an issue about the cost effectiveness of requiring local authorities to go into that level of detail, to keep re-inventing the wheel and producing their own standards which have to stand up at public inquiries. The NPFA standard and formerly the GLC standard offered the reassurance that it was scientifically proven. That is not to say that it is perfect but it does offer a starting point. In the absence of vast amounts of research being produced by local authorities it is a good starting point.

Ms King

  138. The draft revision of PPG17 as it currently stands does not really address the needs of young people in particular play areas for children and the needs of teenagers. This question is particularly addressed to York City Council and Leeds City Council. What approach do your councils take to providing young people and children with the areas that they should be given and how do you ensure that they are maintained in the long term?
  (Mr Elliot) Leeds City Council is involved in producing a children's play strategy at the moment because it would be fair to say that we recognise that our guidance may have got it wrong in the past in terms of requiring children's play in association with new development across the board. This new children's play equipment has tended to be fixed equipment irrespective of the need for fixed equipment within that development. What we are recognising now is that children's play requirements are broader than fixed play equipment. They extend to different types of equipment for different ages, they extend to areas where children can feel safe and where children feel that they have a sense of ownership of the space, where they can engage in informal activities. That cuts right across the age range from the very young, where we would like to see open spaces close to home, to teenagers where obviously there is more opportunity to travel but where teenagers can actually call a space their own. At the moment within open space teenagers drift from open space to open space without any sense of ownership. It often seems a problem. It often becomes anti-social in that they are often using spaces that are inappropriate for them, such as children's play spaces, which become damaged or vandalised or become honeypots for teenagers. We are recognising that we need to produce children's play areas slightly out of the box almost so that we do not have formally equipped children's play areas, and on top of that to try and get integrated play for children who are disabled across the whole range into the environment a lot more and integration there.

Mr Cummings

  139. What is Leeds' definition of play?
  (Mr Elliot) I am sure we have one but I honestly could not tell you. I think it is children enjoying their environment basically. Children will play wherever they find themselves.


1   Note by witness: The point is that a standard, whether an absolute or an accessible one, has an inherent needs assessment within it, which can avoid the need to conduct detailed needs assessment based on value alone. Back


 
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