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


Examination of Witness (Questions 400-419)

MR JON ROUSE

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001

Mrs Ellman

  400. Draft PPG17 has been criticised for being more concerned with quantity than quality, particularly in relation to urban space. What would you say about that?
  (Mr Rouse) I would agree with the criticism. Through very good intentions and objectives, things like the National Playing Field Association's Six-Acre standard have tended to lead to quite a prescriptive approach to public open space which certainly can help to ensure that you have the quantity, but does it have the quality so that people want to use it? It is back to a point that has already been made by one of the members, which is that at the end of the day you have to allow for creativity and innovation on the part of the developer. It is not just a tick-box mentality that is needed here. It is the skills of housing developers or a commercial developer to build a high quality space into their development. If you take something like Broadgate in London, which is a very well used public space,—it has had a temporary ice rink; it is a fun space; but it is not a very big space—yet thousands upon thousands of people use it every year.

  401. Do we need more emphasis on maintaining existing open space rather than developing new open space?
  (Mr Rouse) That is also a very good point. Ninety per cent of our urban fabric that exists now will still be here in 30 years' time. There is a great danger of rushing ahead and putting all the emphasis on providing new space when, say, local authorities do not have the resources or the mechanisms for gaining resources to manage and maintain it properly. One of the things that PPG17 needs to do is to find a balance between the objective of finding new space and making better use of that which we already have.

  402. How do you think this can be addressed? Can it be done through PPG17 or does it have to be done by other means, such as more resources for local authorities?
  (Mr Rouse) It can only be done partially, and only very partially, through planning guidance. What is really important here is the cross-cutting review on public space which is taking place as part of the comprehensive spending review 2002. If there is one conclusion that ought to come out of that review it is that local authorities should have much stronger strategic management responsibilities for the whole of their public realm within their area of administration, something which they lack at the moment, which is why there are so many problems in terms of the management of urban areas.

  403. Is the problem lack of defined responsibility or lack of funding?
  (Mr Rouse) Both. There is lack of defined responsibility. There are too many areas which do not fall under anybody's control and there are too many areas that fall under too many people's control, our streets being one of them with nobody taking overall responsibility. At the same time, if you look at the figures for the other services block of local government SSA and the way that they have been paid RSG over the last ten years, it is always the Other Services Block that tends to suffer because money gets given, quite understandably, for education, social services and the like, but if you keep cutting and cutting, at the end of the day the management of the space is going to suffer.

Chairman

  404. What are you saying? That the money spent on parks, on cemeteries, public squares, streets, is not enough?
  (Mr Rouse) Correct, and we have to be realistic. Some of that may come back through the public purse through the comprehensive spending review next time given that public space is now a priority within that review. But we have to look to other mechanisms as well. One is the future of section 106 agreements as part of the planning reform process. At the moment it is very difficult for local authorities to collect together contributions from different development sites into what we might call the community chest. If they had more freedom over how they could use those resources it would allow them to put some of that back into the management of public space.

Mrs Dunwoody

  405. I cannot find the exact place but somewhere in your evidence you say that this ought to be the responsibility of a mix of engineers and architects and people who have direct involvement, and I think we all agree with that. Then you say in paragraph 19: "CABE realises that there is a proliferation of local strategies"—and you set that out. Whilst not supporting all the things that developers say, where would you draw together all this indication so that they do not just read the general guidance but they say, "To put this into operation we will need to do X and Y"? Where can you give them that targeted approach?
  (Mr Rouse) I am very aware of the burdens which are on local authorities and the level of resources which they have to cope with those burdens. They already have to pull together a community strategy, a development plan, local transport strategy, probably a local economic development plan, probably the local cultural strategy. To then ask them on top of all that to do a separate public realm strategy I think is not realistic. What we have to do is to find ways of injecting our public realm objectives into the strategies which they already have to prepare.

  406. You actually mentioned the problems of development plans. I want to do something in a particular area. I am going to worry about the guidelines in terms of life quality. Where do I find this bit?
  (Mr Rouse) I would like to see it in the companion guide to PPG17. You can pick up a single document and here are ten things which I need to know that I have to do in order to get a reasonably decent piece of public space.

Mr Betts

  407. Following on from that, quite a lot of sectors believe that local authorities should have the responsibility to provide open space strategy. The Rogers Report said that local authorities should have to produce public realm strategies. I think you are the first witness who has said no, they should not produce a strategy. Why do you have a different perspective?
  (Mr Rouse) What I am saying is that I do not think they should be asked to start from scratch and produce yet another document which will just sit on the shelf somewhere gathering dust. What would be much more meaningful is underneath the development plan to produce supplementary planning guidance which represented a public realm strategy so that it had the status of a material consideration under section 54(a) if it was challenged in terms of a planning inquiry.

  408. So basically you are saying that there should be support for the UDP?
  (Mr Rouse) Correct.

  409. Should it be open space or should it be public realm?
  (Mr Rouse) I prefer "public realm" but one of the issues that comes out of PPG17 is that nobody has defined these terms properly.

Mrs Dunwoody

  410. What is your definition of "public realm"?
  (Mr Rouse) If you would like me to have a go at that on a serious basis I would be prepared to put in some supplementary evidence. To try and attempt that now would be difficult.

  411. We need not only a definition of what you think "public realm" means. We need to know the difference between "public realm" and "public domain".
  (Mr Rouse) I agree with you.

  412. Why is it not in there? You have put everything else in.
  (Mr Rouse) I would prefer to have a proper go at it and supply some supplementary evidence. We do need a typology of public space. We need to know what we are talking about. At the moment, as I say, at the start of our evidence the definition excludes hard open space because it only talks about green space. What about all these wonderful squares that we have in our towns and cities, like Brindley Place, Leeds Millennium Square, Sheffield Peace Gardens etc. Are they in the definition? They certainly should be.

Chairman

  413. We also want a definition that the public can understand, do we not?
  (Mr Rouse) Yes.

  Chairman: "Public realm" does seem to be a little bit confusing for the public as well as, obviously, you cannot trot out a definition.

Mrs Dunwoody

  414. It makes it sound like a hunting ground for the royal household.
  (Mr Rouse) The definition in the 1990 Act is not much better. I wrote it down: "Land laid out as a public garden or used for the purpose of public recreation or land which is a disused burial ground". It is not really what we are trying to capture.

  Chairman: We will look forward to that supplementary evidence.

  Mrs Dunwoody: We are good at disused burial grounds.

Dr Pugh

  415. The emphasis in the PPG is on green space. Do you think too much emphasis is put on green space and not enough on other kinds of space?
  (Mr Rouse) I was probably a little bit rude but I did say in CABE's evidence at the start that there was a sense that this guidance reminded me of that 1970s film Kes where Brian Glover is seen running across these inner city playing fields with bleak urban landscapes. For me public space or public realm is a much richer tapestry that includes playgrounds, squares, home zone areas, skateboard parks. I think our public space at the start of the 21st century is not just about pieces of green injected into the urban fabric. It is much richer than that.

  416. So do you think the remit of the PPG should be extendable, or do we need another PPG again?
  (Mr Rouse) No. It has taken us long enough to get to this one. We have to have this PPG and we have to have it soon. What the DTLR need to do is reflect on that richness by expanding the definition and scope of public space within it. Hats off to Sport England because they have really grabbed this PPG. It is very sport orientated in terms of traditional sports but I do not think really that is what the richness of our public space is about.

  417. May I just press you a little bit on that. What would you exclude from civic space? Is it a street, public space, an alleyway, an entry? Is that all civic space? I mean everything except private and retail property.
  (Mr Rouse) I think it is open space which the public have access to. I think our streets are one of the most important elements of our public realm. Clearly we want to avoid duplication with PPG13 because that would cause a nightmare for developers but I think it certainly goes broader than the current PPG17 articulates.

Mr Cummings

  418. You have highlighted the PPG's lack of explicit guidance on the design of recreational and sporting facilities. Why do you think this is so important and how could PPG17 perhaps better address the design of new facilities?
  (Mr Rouse) Mainly through the work of the National Lottery but also the success of some of our major sporting companies, particularly some of our big football clubs, we have seen a proliferation in recent years of new sporting facilities. CABE itself has recently been involved in the new Arsenal stadium, in the new Everton stadium at King's Waterfront in Liverpool, in the aborted Pickett's Lock project and Wembley.

Chairman

  419. There are a lot of failures there.
  (Mr Rouse) There is only one failure. I believe that the Arsenal stadium is going to be a huge new success for north London. What we have found is that there are certain principles which come up time and time again in the planning of those facilities. The first thing is that if you do not plan them as mixed use environments with other uses around them then they become dead spaces. Having major pieces of a city which are only used when the major events are taking place is not satisfactory. A site such as King's Waterfront or the site of the new Arsenal stadium should be in active use at different times of the day and evening through the week. It is not acceptable to waste urban space in that way.


 
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