Examination of Witness (Questions 194
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
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.
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
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.
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.