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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 222 - 239)

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001

MR DICKON ROBINSON, MR MIKE NEWTON AND MR JULIAN SMITH

Chairman

  222. Can I welcome all three of you to the final session this morning. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
  (Mr Newton) Mike Newton, Head of Planning at The House Builders Federation.
  (Mr Smith) Julian Smith, Head of External Affairs at The House Builders Federation.
  (Mr Robinson) Dickon Robinson, Director of Development and Technical Services at the Peabody Trust.

  223. Do any of you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?

  (Mr Robinson) I have got one or two things I would just like to say which are derived from my organisation's experience of managing large, inner city housing estates which are characterised by large amounts of open space (which is somewhat overlooked when people are discussing open space strategies such as you are today). Obviously those estates are also characterised by high density living and therefore open space generally in the neighbourhood is particularly important to those communities. We think that the quality of those spaces is a crucial issue and much too often the quality of those spaces is not high enough. We think we should be encouraging the regeneration strategies which come under a whole plethora of headings like New Deal for Communities or Action Zones to have a quite explicit open spaces strategy which looks at all the open space in these areas, whether it is private open space or communal shared open space or dedicated public open space. We think that that Open Space Strategy should give particular regard to the interests of young people because they tend to use open space for social and recreational use more than other age groups, but also because, from an urban regeneration point of view and estate management point of view, young people and sadly the challenges of youth crime and drugs are a huge issue which cannot be detached both from urban regeneration and the way that open space is planned, designed and managed. So we want to make that connection. Lastly, we think that local authorities and planning authorities must be able to be creative in reallocating space from public open space to communal open space or private open space in the interests of focussing on quality. We think there needs to be a strong emphasis on achieving high levels of landscape design and on grounds maintenance. Too often, inadequate budgets for ground maintenance mean that the area is just put down to grass which is mown and the quality of the open space is quite unexceptional. We have got a number of examples to which I can refer to illustrate those points if you are interested.

  224. Thank you very much. Would you like to say anything, Mr Smith?
  (Mr Smith) I would like to pull out two words Dickon mentioned which are "creativity" and "quality" and refer back to what your last witness was just saying in terms of urban renaissance. It is integral to achieving towns and cities in which people want to live to provide the quality of life that people want, and recreation and open space are essential to that process. Indeed not just in terms of the urban renaissance but in the whole general direction of PPG3, if you are looking towards high density you are looking, arguably, for a shift from private space to public open space, perhaps a shift from people enjoying so much personal space to more open space. That becomes even more important. Again and again we have seen the need for a planning system to integrate all its various ingredients in terms of transport, leisure and other facilities and recreational open space is just one part of that. Our disappointment with the draft PPG17 arises from its inability to integrate properly with the rest of the planning system, amongst other things. We have to recognise that there is competition for the best use of land—competition in the most enlightened sense in that you have a limited amount of brownfield land and it has to be used creatively and properly to achieve the wider benefits that people are looking for, and policies which seek to isolate and determine without a sufficient degree of flexibility as to what a particular land use will be in the future, which arguably this document does, are not helpful. We need to be in a position where local authorities and other stakeholders in the planning system are able to take a look at how land is being used in our towns and cities and use them much more creatively in the future.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mrs Ellman

  225. What is your view of the suggestion in the draft PPG that developers be asked to contribute to off-site provision in brown field development rather than on site?
  (Mr Newton) As far as developer contributions are concerned, the fundamental guidance is Circular 1/97 which sets the parameters around all contributions, whether they be for sport, education or for affordable housing. There is a presumption in favour of provision on site. The essential principle is that whatever is required or whatever contribution is made it is related to that development and deals with a need that arises from that development. So I think there is some reservation, a reservation that we hold and also in government guidance, about off-site contributions. But I think they are acceptable if they are dealing with a need that arises from the development. It is another way of addressing that need. It may not be possible to address it on site. It may be necessary to address it off site but as long as there is that relationship with the development.

  226. You are not opposed to that suggestion?
  (Mr Newton) Not absolutely in principle.

  227. Maybe in practice?
  (Mr Newton) It depends on the circumstances.

  228. What sorts of circumstances would give you concern or would you agree with?
  (Mr Newton) The concern—and it is a concern about the draft PPG17—is that the opportunity might be taken to resolve existing deficiencies in open space and recreation through the development process rather than tailoring contributions to the needs associated with the development itself or the needs that that development creates. So it is a question of trying to draw on private funding to resolve perhaps cuts or to redress cuts in public expenditure.

Mrs Dunwoody

  229. Why should that worry you if you still get the result you want at the end of it?
  (Mr Newton) It would worry us because contributions encompass not just open space but education and affordable housing.

  230. With respect, you are not answering my question. You will presumably enter these sorts of agreements because you see a positive advantage to whatever you are doing.
  (Mr Newton) In terms of getting planning permission, yes.

  231. So why you should have an objection if at the end of it you get whatever it is that was your particular objective in entering into the agreement?
  (Mr Newton) We might not get what we want.

  232. No, life is frequently very difficult. Why should you object if the outcome is one that you find acceptable? Is your objection in principle to the suggestion that you should be giving money to local authorities to replace existing forms of income or is your objection that you might not get what you want if you cannot dictate exactly down to every dot and comma?
  (Mr Newton) We do not expect to be able to dictate the nature of those requirements.

  233. So what is your objection?
  (Mr Newton) The objection is we want to see contributions considered in the round. They have a cumulative effect and damage the viability of development, particularly when directed towards more marginal sources of land which have infrastructure or contamination problems in areas of low market value such as that which the previous witness referred to in East Manchester where there is limited value in the land to support a very ambitious package of planning gain.

Chairman

  234. What you are saying is that you do not want a local authority to demand too much money. The point Mrs Dunwoody was putting to you is once you have agreed the amount of money, does it really matter to you whether it is used on site, close to the site or somewhere else within that urban environment?
  (Mr Newton) I am not sure that it does necessarily. Our concern is about viability and the overall scale of the requirements and whether they are manageable in terms of delivering a successful development That is the key issue, that is the fundamental issue, rather than whether it is off site or on site, I would accept that.

Mrs Ellman

  235. Would you object to contributing to longer term maintenance costs?
  (Mr Newton) There is a concern about that certainly, firstly, because PPG17 as currently drafted is not consistent with Circular 1/97 on that point because the basis for planning obligations is for funding the facility rather than its on-going maintenance. The provision of maintenance is about small areas of urban space rather than an on-going commitment. The concern relates to the burden and the on-going burden which is a bit difficult for a developer to manage over a period of 10 or 20 years. It is an open-ended commitment and it is difficult to take that into account in the equation.

Mrs Dunwoody

  236. But you do that kind of calculation if you are looking at a scheme which gives you continuing involvment in maintenance, do you not?
  (Mr Newton) I am sorry.

  237. You do a calculation before you enter into a scheme where one of the requirements is that you give a commitment in terms of maintenance. You do exactly that kind of calculation. Why should it be different if the calculation relates to open land as opposed to buildings?
  (Mr Newton) I am not sure it is.

  238. So you are not saying that you basically have an objection to the way it is done, you are simply saying, "I have an objection to something which might commit me to more money than I want to pay."
  (Mr Newton) That is a point.

  239. Fine.
  (Mr Newton) The level of scale of contribution is the principal issue.


 
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