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


Examination of Witness (Questions 384-399)

MR JON ROUSE

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001

Chairman

  384. Could I welcome you to the final session of our inquiry into sport, open space and recreation and could I ask you to identify yourself for the record?

  (Mr Rouse) I am Jon Rouse. I am Chief Executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

  385. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  (Mr Rouse) You have had our written memorandum. We have covered four or five main points in that memorandum. In overall terms we welcome the thrust of the new guidance note. However, we think there are some substantial weaknesses within it. One is the absence of proper support for the idea of public realm strategies and seeing the public realm in a holistic way. A second is the failure of the guidance to deal adequately with the impact of major sports and other recreational facilities on surrounding neighbourhoods.

Mrs Ellman

  386. One of the Commission's roles is to promote a high quality public realm. What do you mean by that?
  (Mr Rouse) What it means in simple terms is that we believe spaces are more important than the buildings themselves in terms of the quality of an urban environment. It is the spaces between the buildings that have the biggest impact on people's perception of their quality of life within those areas. At the end of the day buildings are, one way or another, private or communal objects but the spaces, particularly the public parks, the open spaces, are fully shared and they have to accommodate a whole variety of different uses. You can get them right, properly enclosed, properly managed, providing legibility in terms of how to find your way round the place and providing space for wildlife, or you can get them wrong, what we call space left over after planning or SLOAP, places which are badly managed with manicured lawns with lollipop trees that nobody looks after, nobody seems to know who they belong to, they have no relationship with the rest of the urban realm. That is why it is so important.

  387. The Task Force's report on urban renaissance indicated the importance of economic factors as well as planning issues. How far do you think economic factors contribute to designing a proper urban realm?
  (Mr Rouse) I think they are fundamental. One of the things that CABE did earlier in the year was to follow up the Urban Task Force's recommendation. We undertook a research study to look at the economic impact of well designed public space and we chose three pair-wise comparisons: two schemes in Nottingham, two in Birmingham and two in Manchester. Just to give you one example, we compared Castle Wharf in Nottingham, which is an area on the canal, with an area called Standard Court, which is an old hospital site to the west of the city. On that case we found that the better designed scheme, which is Castle Wharf, was substantially out-performing Standard Court in terms of capital values, rental values, turnover and footfall in terms of retail and leisure use. We believe that the main reason for that is the high quality of design investment that was made at the outset into that development.

  388. Do you think that planning strategies generally take account of the economic impact of the design?
  (Mr Rouse)—No, I think they are substantially weak in this area. The advent of the companion guide to PPG1 By Design was really the first attempt to address that imbalance. I do not think that the contract for PPG17 does enough to recognise the positive and proactive role of planning to generate economic good from public space provision.

  389. How would you like to see PPG17 changed to take account of this?
  (Mr Rouse) At the moment it does some very important things which are about the protection of open space, the protection of recreational space, which is very important, but planning is a positive endeavour and so we would like to see much better use of supplementary planning guidance, development frameworks, development briefs, to ensure that when a developer comes upon a site, whether it is residential commercial or mixed purpose, they know that there is going to be an onus upon them to fund high quality public space.

Mr Cummings

  390. Do you think that the revised PPG17 does go far enough to promote good design of open spaces between and around buildings whether there be vegetation or whether it be hard surface?
  (Mr Rouse) No, I do not think it does. One of the questions that we would like the DTLR to think about is whether there is a case for having a companion guide to PPG17 that deals specifically with the design of public space. We recognise that you cannot articulate all the design principles you might want to in a PPG itself. We have already done companion guides to PPG3 on housing, we have done one on PPG13 on transport, and there is one for PPG1. If we believe that open space (the space between buildings) is more important than the buildings themselves, then we think there should be a companion guide to PPG17 as well.

  391. Would you tell the Committee a little more about a companion guide?
  (Mr Rouse) A companion guide does not have any formal status. It does not have the same status of a material consideration as the PPG itself, but it provides best practice guidance including case studies to planning authorities to demonstrate to them what can be achieved if you adopt a positive practical approach to the design of public space.

  392. Could you give us some examples?
  (Mr Rouse) The PPG3 companion guide, which is on housing, is built around 13 case studies going right back to places like Jesmond from the 19th century right through to absolutely contemporary developments and illustrates why they reflect good design in residential development. What we would do in terms of a companion guide to PPG17 would be to take places right from a Georgian square through to places like Brindley Place in Birmingham or a new public space in somewhere like Epsom and use those examples to articulate the key principles of good public realm design.

  393. Would I be correct in saying that the summarised objectives of the companion guide would basically be based upon character, continuity and enclosure, quality of the public realm? What does that mean: quality of the public realm?
  (Mr Rouse) Those principles which you are articulating, of which there are seven, come from the companion guide to PPG1. The companion guide to PPG1 is where those principles are articulated. Just to take the three that you have identified, if we take the Georgian square, what is it that gives a Georgian square a sense of identity, a sense of character? If you look round the square the buildings are actually quite standardised. What gives it its character is the relationship between the square in the middle, the garden, the access to that, and the quality of the buildings around and how it is enclosed. If you take the third one, the quality of the public realm, what are the materials that are being used? Is it constantly being dug up by utility companies or is this proper local stone that has been used and maintained properly? What sort of trees have been planted? Do they fit well with the local area and with the character of the area? Is there proper public access to these places? Are there facilities for people to use? Are there café stalls? These are all things that contribute to the quality of public space.

Sir Paul Beresford

  394. Would you agree that there is an argument that what you are putting out is a planner's delight, the planners like to have hold of absolutely everything. Here we have got PPGs. We are going to be following that with an outlook over the top. The next minute there is a companion guide. Where can we have innovation? Where can we have something new? You are actually getting a grip on something that ought to have more expandable boundaries, so you are more restrictive to the degree that we are trying to apply standard things right across a nation that, in spite of its population and the small amount of green area relatively, is going to be stifled?
  (Mr Rouse) I agree with the point you are making but I think at the moment the planning system is particularly poor at this because so much emphasis is put on the development control process. In other words you have no consistency or coherence in terms of the types of decisions you are going to get from planning authorities. You get reactive views on the basis of the individual whims of individual planning members. If you articulate your principles up front and say, "This is the basic standard we require", it does give the private sector the flexibility and the creativity to respond to those principles and come up with innovative solutions. It actually takes away some of the sting of development control by stating up front what your strategic principles are.

  395. But what you are essentially doing is taking government out of local government.
  (Mr Rouse) No, I do not think so because it would be for local government to interpret those PPG principles in terms of individual development plans, supplementary planning guidance and development frameworks.

  396. With handcuffs and straitjackets.
  (Mr Rouse) No. We know that there are certain time honoured principles which go right back into our history from the Georgian square through the Victorian Coronation Gardens right through the 20th century. It is stupid just to ignore those principles. We ought to collect them together and articulate them through our national guidance. That is a very sensible thing to do.

Mr Cummings

  397. Is this companion to which you refer your companion or is it a companion which has been developed through consultation with other agencies?
  (Mr Rouse) It would have to be done through full consultation with other agencies just as the residential and the transport guides were done, so it would probably be jointly drawn up by the Commission, by DTLR, but we would need to fully involve English Heritage, Sport England, English Nature.

  398. Who was involved for instance in relation to this companion? In the documents there is one prepared by yourselves in relation to PPG3.
  (Mr Rouse) The main partners in the provision of that document were the house builders in terms of the steering committee. It was done between the house builders, the Commission and DTLR.

  399. Local government?
  (Mr Rouse) Local government was certainly represented through the Local Government Association.


 
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