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


Examination of Witness (Questions 194 - 199)

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001

MR ALAN BARBER

Chairman

  194. Could you introduce yourself for the record?
  (Mr Barber) My name is Alan Barber and I chair the Parks Open Spaces and Countryside Panel of the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management. We are an independent body of around 6,000 managers mainly in the public sector but quite a few in the private sector as well. Our main mission, and we are supported largely on the subscriptions of our members, is to see the better management of leisure facilities of all kinds, both natural environment and built facilities, in the belief that the better they are managed the more opportunities more people have to enjoy recreation in its widest sense.

Mr Betts

  195. Could we begin with the issue of definitions? One of the criticisms you made of the draft PPG is this issue of lack of definition of open space or the potential conflict between what might be open space and what might be provision for sport. You can have a major leisure centre which is classified as a sporting facility but clearly is not open space. Would you like to say something about what you see as that confusion and what could be done to rectify it?
  (Mr Barber) My main criticism was that, having injected the phrase "open space" in the title of the PPG as clearly being distinct from sport and recreation, then the phrase "sport and recreation" without "open space" was mentioned more times than "sport", "open space" and "recreation" and so it left the reader wondering whether this was merely the product of sloppy drafting or whether in fact "open space", however you define it, was left out of substantial parts of the consideration of the draft. I think a lot of people who read that draft are struggling with that. We do not actually know what it is trying to say in some important areas.

  196. Do you think there should be now be a very clear national definition of open space or do you think there is room for flexibility at local level?
  (Mr Barber) I think that is slightly different. I am not too precious about that. Certainly there are types of open space like woodland and burial grounds and so on which are in the open environment which everybody understands what you would mean by that, but I do think that if you are producing planning guidance which has to face legal tests in planning appeals and the like you have to get the terminology right or you will simply be pulled apart in what tends to be a rather legalistic process. I think that the drafters should have been more aware of that than they were. As it is, of course, even when open space is included in the draft, the definitions seem to waver a bit. I think children's play was at one point informal and then it becomes formal in the draft. They rest on the very poor definition of public open space which is in the Planning Act. But even if any kind of standard typology for urban green space is something that cab be talked about, then at the very least if you are actually producing planning guidance you have got to define your terms much more precisely and set out the stall better than this document does.

Miss McIntosh

  197. In the memorandum that ILAM sent to Philip Grant on 1 June it stated that the revised PPG17 should recognise the size of the land intake involved in current definitions of urban green spaces and that that should be 120,000 hectares in England and Wales. Do you still stand by that?
  (Mr Barber) I actually increase it. I have the privilege of being a member of the Government's current Urban Green Spaces Task Force and one of the issues that has come up, as you would understand, is just how much is there. It is extremely difficult to pin down but I am convinced in my own mind, having looked into this, that it is probably nearer 150,000 hectares than 120,000. To get a measure of that you are talking about an area of land locked into our urban environments which is greater than the size of Berkshire and is probably the equivalent to something like 13 or 14 cities of Bristol. It is an absolutely enormous land take and it is very much more generous than I believe many other countries have got, so the basic working tool is that green is good for urban environments and we are certainly not short of it in terms of overall quantity.

  198. Also in your evidence you say that local authorities should produce local standards and this appears to be largely ignored. In your view what do you think has prevented local authorities from producing relevant standards?
  (Mr Barber) I think that I am on the side of what I believe is the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions' position on this one. I am not sure that what I want to see is national guidance put down so tightly that it ignores the fact that there are huge local differences and I do not want local planning authorities to work solely as administrators of planning consents and the like and not actually do the thinking about the planning of their towns and cities. I think this is what is missing. I am in favour of local standards and that means that real work has to be done but, in order to save a lot of duplication and in order to give some real sense to this, I think there has to be guidance on the development of those standards. Simply to say that if you are interested there is an NPFA standard or there is this other standard does not really do that job. Whether you should go into this at length in a planning policy guidance or whether it should be some supplementary guidance I have an open mind on, but what we do know is that local authorities, planning authorities, are not doing much of that. The overwhelming number are taking a very simplistic standard like the NPFA "six-acre standard". Quite a lot of them realise that it is not actually intended to cover all types of open space and so they add another acre for luck. How this is actually applied in places which are extremely different in their urban form is not properly discussed and it is that which local planning authorities really must get to grips with.

  199. Do you believe that the present criteria are not sufficiently flexible? If you take two of the witnesses who just gave evidence, Leeds City Council and York City Council, they have two very different areas within their jurisdiction. Do you believe that the present criteria are sufficiently flexible to reflect the standards that you would like to see?
  (Mr Barber) Yes, I am finding that a little bit difficult because if we believe that they should be developing local standards then Leeds and York are different cities and they would be developing different standards, but it is a bit of a planning conceit to presume that setting out local standards can somehow then change the form of a town or a city. At the end of the day 90 per cent of what we see in most established towns and cities is what the next generation is also going to see. There is not that much scope. There is a lot more scope if you look at the qualitative issues in standards which I think are more important than many of the quantitative ones, and start to say what is it that makes green spaces of all types of value to people and look at the amount that we have got and make the best use of that. One of the problems here is that you are getting planning guidance and a planning system seemingly working quite independently from the fact that we have got this huge area of existing green space in total amount. Much of it is declining and with a lot of it you do wonder what the actual use of it is at all. Of course, now we should be talking about an urban renaissance. The term "urban renaissance" I think is used five or six times in the Planning Police Guidance but I am not sure the authors know what an `urban renaissance' is if it bit them in the leg. Surely one of the key issues is that if we are to put a more compact footprint on the ground, if we are not to spread out suburbia into the countryside year after year, then the fact that we have got this large amount of open space means that we must value it so we must get a handle on how this volume relates to the issue of making cities more compact and getting more household growth contained within the existing urban footprint. It is astonishing to me that this argument is never really exposed or rehearsed in this document. I thought that was what Lord Rogers' Task Force was primarily about.


 
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