Examination of Witness (Questions 340
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
340. Can I welcome you to the Committee. Can
you identify yourself for the record.
(Mr Worpole) My name is Ken Worpole. I am a writer
and environmentalist and member of the Urban Green Spaces Task
341. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction
or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
(Mr Worpole) My interest in this issue
is about people's use of parks. By background I am more of a social
historian than a landscape person or parks person. The one piece
of work I was deeply involved in in terms of planning open space
was a piece of research done for the London Planning Advisory
Committee in 1999 on assessing the demand for open space in London.
It threw up what seems to me to be a key issue about the planning
of open space in modern cities, which is traditionally we see
open space as a series of parks or discrete spaces and I think
in a more environmentally conscious era we are trying to think
of open space in the city as a series of networks or corridors
through which people walk or cycle safely, so the whole question
of open space includes not just the discrete spaces but the streets
and the ways in which you connect these things up. It does raise
real problems because you can mobilise communities about protecting
and defending a park, particularly against outsiders or cyclists
or strangers, but how do you convince people to open up the open
space to other people's needs and so on? I am very struck by a
phrase that they use in Scandinavia when talking about open space,
where they talk about the "green communicative structure
of the city", which embodies both the space and the need
for people to flow and meet and so on. That is how I feel about
Chairman: Thank you very much. Clive Betts?
342. Could you tell usand we have had
slightly different information given so farto what extent
the Urban Green Spaces Task Force was consulted about the changes
(Mr Worpole) It was on the agenda of an early meeting
when Beverley Hughes was the Minister chairing the task force.
When it came to that item on the agenda she felt that since one
or two members of the Urban Spaces Task Force had in public made
comment on the draft PPG 17, that this made it impossible for
there to be a consensual discussion and in fact the item was not
343. So there was a consultation then with the
actual task force?
(Mr Worpole) The task force did not in any substantive
way discuss draft PPG17 although, as the Minister knew, and everybody
else knew, many of us had in various ways commented on the subject
publicly. I can see why there could be problems.
344. It is just that in the previous evidence
session we were told by officials in the Department that the task
force did consider PPG17 issues, and representation was made to
the planning team. "I think my planning colleagues .... are
aware (of) a bundle of issues, which is coming via the task force
(Mr Worpole) That is how I
Chairman: You are certainly good at making expressions
but to get it on the record I need you to tell me that it is a
load of cobblers.
345. Or words to that effect!
(Mr Worpole) The agenda item was not taken at the
346. Do you think it would have been helpful
had it been?
(Mr Worpole) I guess it might have been seen as a
diversion and we would then be circulated copies and so on. The
priority work of the task force obviously is to think about urban
green spaces and it was a very early meeting. Whether that is
a comment on another government department document
347. To what extent will the draft revision
of PPG17 bring about the urban renaissance?
(Mr Worpole) Not in its present form. I have found
the document very confusing. I could not really tell what its
priorities were. It starts with sport, open space and recreation.
If it is about open space that should have been the opening phrase,
"open space" and then formal and informal recreation.
Organised sport in open spaces in cities is a minority pursuit.
The substantive function of open space in towns and cities is
much more about recreation, enjoyment, play, informal dog walking,
park strolling and so on. It is not about organised sport. This
seemed to me to be a tail wagging a dog.
348. How would you like to change PPG17 apart
from you have referred to the undue emphasis on sport?
(Mr Worpole) If you look at the Urban Renaissance
document which, in a way, resulted in the Urban White Paper, it
specifically called for an advisory committee on parks, playing
areas and public spaces. That seems to me a fairly robust definition
of what open space is about and the urban renaissance is about
parks, play areas and open spaces, including hard public spaces.
If we think of one of the great success stories of the urban renaissance,
Birmingham city centre, that is about hard open space. It has
to orientate itself to that wider definition of public open space.
349. Are there any other specific things that
you would like to change?
(Mr Worpole) It does refer briefly to networks but
I do not think it has brought to the fore this dilemma we faceand
I think it is a genuine dilemma because in the Urban Green Spaces
Task Force we have been very impressed by terrific examples of
community involvement in small spaces, community farms, community
gardens, and you can mobilise voluntary activities by communities
to improve small spaces and so onwhich is that it leaves
the question of the big urban parks that are currently looking
rather run down. I have forgotten the question, could you repeat
350. I was saying was there anything else that
you would like to change or add in the PPG 17 as drafted?
(Mr Worpole) It is to go back to the Urban White Paper
and the Urban Renaissance document and to focus on parks, play
areas and public spaces, a triumvirate of open space.
351. The draft revision of PPG 17 states that:
"Authorities should seek opportunities to make better use
of land by ... relocating amenity open space and sports fields
to sites where other developments are precluded". What are
your views on this land exchange and what are its implications
for the urban renaissance?
(Mr Worpole) People, particularly developers, are
very keen to develop new spaces because it is quite easy, not
using very much money, to take a flat piece of derelict land,
grass it, and put a few shrubs in. The real problem for open space
in British towns and cities is what to do with the open space
and playing fields we have already got. With land exchange schemes
there might be a temptation, as we have seen already in parts
of inner London, to use valuable open space for development and
exchange it for a rather less valuable playing field on the outskirts
of the city, which is not part of the urban renaissance. The urban
renaissance requires high quality open space and playing space
in the heart of the city. The problem is in endlessly wanting
to transfer these things out to the margins.
352. In a nutshell, potentially negative?
(Mr Worpole) Yes.
353. What I wanted to ask you about was relating
to what you said before because I think it is the crux of the
issue about the sports element. Why do you think it is that there
is this over-emphasis on sport and how do you think it is going
to be broken?
(Mr Worpole) It is not surprising because we do have
Sport England which, rightly, is a professional organisation with
professional researchers able to rally lots of evidence in support
of its case. We do not have the same kind of capacity for the
environmental case or the social case. There is not only a Sports
Lottery Fund but sport seems to be getting a substantial part
of the New Opportunities Fund as well, so they are getting two
bites of the cherry. So it is a powerful lobby.
354. Is not the Urban Green Spaces Task Force
supposed to be a counter-weight?
(Mr Worpole) We are all lay, voluntary people. Yes,
I hope it will be. It has not reported yet, there is an interim
report coming out. It is part of a bigger dilemma that indoor
leisure in Britain is now much more highly favoured than outdoor
leisure. The lobby for indoor leisure is quasi commercial (and
many people who are trained to work in leisure departments in
local authorities come from an indoor leisure background which
seems to be much more market oriented with charging, and so on)and
that culture is of a piece in some ways with this vision. I think
what has been forgotten is the fact that outdoor open space as
a recreational, health and leisure facility is used by a much
wider cross-section of the population than indoor leisure centres.
The demographics of use of indoor leisure is probably very tiny.
355. You think if you charged people for dog
walking it would get a higher profile?
(Mr Worpole) If you could put the cost per user for
indoor leisure that is publicly subsidised against the cost per
user of outdoor leisure, outdoor leisure is much more cost-effective.
I think in your Select Committee report on town and country parks,
someone produced a figure of 50 pence per user for a public park
whereas the figures for indoor swimming run up to £8 per
user. An outdoor open space park is very good value for money
for a much wider section of the population.
356. You mentioned earlier that the PPG17 omits
completely any reference to all the hard civic places, the "public
realm" in the centre of our towns and cities. Can I ask you
to elaborate on what you said earlier and tell us why you think
that is a serious omission and what guidance you feel is needed
by local authorities regarding that very valuable open space in
the heart of our towns and cities?
(Mr Worpole) The Urban Renaissance and the Urban White
Paper did put a high priority on civic public space as a new form
of creating civic pride and socialability in the city centre.
Likewise, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and the work of the Social
Exclusion Unit has concentrated not so much on parks but on street
quality, as does the notion of liveability. So it is a slightly
romantic view that open space has to be grassed and it is a slightly
English view; you would not find it in Barcelona or Paris. A lot
of great open spaces there either have shingle or they are paved.
The other danger of thinking about open space as grass is that
it then allows people to think it is self-repairing, you do not
have to spend so much on it, and this does raise the issue of
maintenance. You do have to pay to manage and maintain high-quality
outdoor space whether it is grass or hard surface. That factor
has not come on the agenda in the Urban White Paper as much as
I would like to see it. People are keen on big-scale investments
in Birmingham or Bristol or the Thames Walkway, which are wonderful,
and they are getting tens of thousands of people, but they will
require long-term management and maintenance. It is not currently
on the table how you do that.
357. Do you think you can have a planning system
as far as open space is concerned which is totally out of kilter
with the amount of resources? Would it not be much better to cut
the number of parks and open spaces in half and then there would
be enough money to maintain them properly rather than have this
wish list of large amounts of open space which is very poorly
(Mr Worpole) I have been tempted in that direction
myself. There clearly are places in British towns and cities,
and I know parts of London, where there probably is too much open
space such that it dilutes the sense of community and urbanity
so much that people do not like it because there are drugs and
teenagers drive cars there and so on. In some areas you can have
too much urban open space. We are only just beginning to realise
how important this connective tissue of towns and streets is,
for children particularly. There is a great deal of consensus
on the Urban Green Spaces Task Force already emerging. One of
the things you will find is that we put children and young people
as a priority. We are seeing very much that we are not going in
the European direction where children have much greater freedom
on the streets and security when using buses and so on; we are
going towards the North American model where parents drive children
everywhere by car. Unless you have a high quality set of open
space networks we will not get children back in the streets playing,
walking to school, and so on. This is much more important than
a few football pitches.
358. So how are you going to fund it? Are the
106 agreements a way of funding it?
(Mr Worpole) Only a small way. The way you fund it
is the same way as if you decide that you really want Britain
to become a world-class sporting nationyou put money into
it. If you want people to live in towns and cities and live healthily,
you have to put money in. That has to come from local authorities
or central government or a combination of the two. You either
take open space as seriously as you take indoor space or you just
let it go to the dogs.
359. Are you serious about that?
(Mr Worpole) I am, yes. I was in Malmo over the summer
on holiday and they take it seriously. Everything about it is
pristine, the cycle ways, the pavements, the bus service, the
connection between the train station and the bus station. It is
about a high-quality open public realm, and at the moment we are
in danger of going down the American road, that as long as you
can get in the car and get out the other end, you can drive through
a battlefield, and many decision-makers do.