Examination of Witness (Questions 426-439)|
QC AND MS
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
426. Can I welcome you to the Committee and
to our inquiry into sport, open space and recreation. Could I
ask you to identify yourself and your team please?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Charles
Falconer, Minister of Planning, Housing and Regeneration. This
is Sally Keeble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department
of Transport, Local Government and the Regions with responsibility
for planning and housing and also with specific responsibility
for green space. She is the Chairman of the Urban Green Spaces
Task Force and has day to day responsibility for the development
427. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction
or go straight into questions?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I say very briefly
a few words and then we will go to questions? As has been made
clear in earlier evidence sessions by officials, it is government
policy to promote and preserve good leisure, including sports,
open spaces and recreational facilities. Land use planning has
got a crucial role in developing and implementing that strategy.
Local authorities should develop local strategies as an integral
part of their community strategies for sports, leisure and open
space. Land use planning is only one method by which government
policy is delivered but it is an important one in this case. The
aim of the draft PPG is to ensure that sports, green space and
recreational facilities are no longer the Cinderella of the planning
system but something which the local authority focuses on in determining
what the needs for the area are so that one can determine what
should be preserved and what further facilities should be promoted.
The document that we are looking is only a draft. This Committee
and other people have identified a number of weaknesses in the
document: lack of clarity, insufficient joining up with other
parts of the system, lack of connection with the planning gain
system, insufficient involvement of the community. Many of the
issues that are identified are criticisms of the planning system
as a whole and they will be addressed in the Green Paper on planning
that is coming in the course of next month, though I am perfectly
happy to discuss them in the context of PPG17 today. Both before
and after PPG17 the purpose of the final document is to ensure
that the system preserves and promotes good sporting and other
leisure facilities and open green spaces. Subject to you, Mr Chairman,
I propose that Sally handles matters covered by the detail of
the PPG, including the role of assessments and the setting of
standards, the protection of open space and sports facilities,
and material arising from the Urban Green Spaces Task Force, and
I will handle questions about the role of the PPG in the context
of the planning system as a whole and any proposals for reform
in relation to the planning system.
428. I was interested to hear your catalogue
of accepted criticisms of the guidance that have been made to
us by a number of witnesses already. One of the criticisms that
has come across over and over again is that the PPG concentrates
first of all on quantity rather than quality and also it deals
with the provision and creation of new open space rather than
what happens to existing open space. In the light of the switch
with PPG3 to push development back into urban areas on brownfield
sites, is it not true that PPG17 ought to start addressing the
issue more? What can be done to enhance the quality of existing
open space, much of it declining with poor levels of maintenance?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Let me put that in context.
What PPG17 is trying to do is that it is saying that local authorities
should define what their needs for all sorts of sports, recreation
and green space facilities are. Having assessed what their needs
are, both in terms of quality and in terms of quantity, they should
then identify what they have already got and what further ones
they need. Only once they have done that will they know what should
be preserved and what should be sought for the future. If they
do that it will be much more easy to promote development in the
sort of area that you have identified, and also identify what
should be preserved.
(Ms Keeble) In terms of protection, can I point you
to paragraph 24 of the PPG which deals with this matter about
PPG3? It says that it makes clear that lands, which is parks,
recreation grounds, playing fields and allotments, must not be
regarded as previously developed land which can be targeted for
additional housing development. I think that is quite clear. There
is a problem in terms of some of the small informal spaces to
which people attach a lot of value but which have not been formally
classified as parks, and I am sure lots of people are aware of
those. Those are some of the issues which the Task Force is also
going to look at. The Task Force is also very interested in some
of those small informal areas and the way in which they are used.
In terms of the protection, that is specifically dealt with in
429. There is also the question of the enhancement
and maintenance of these spaces and if you were to go round urban
areas you will get very close to some of the new housing developments
we are trying to encourage. They are pretty run down. The playgrounds
are almost useless. The playing fields are not maintained properly.
The standards are very low. Is it your view that the guidance
as it is can address those issues or does it need to be improved?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The guidance as it is
is dealing with planning. It is not dealing with maintenance after
they have been developed or what is happening to them at the moment.
Surely the right way to deal with it is the local authority should
identify what it has got at the moment, what it needs to do with
what it has got at the moment, not just in planning terms but
in maintenance terms as well. That is an issue beyond planning.
One of the criticisms that has been made of this document is that
it does not adequately connect in with community strategies or
strategies that local authorities should have for green space
sporting and leisure facilities generally. I think we have to
recognise what the limitations of the planning system are. All
that they can deal with is whether or not you allow existing facilities
to be developed or whether you give permission for new facilities.
What the planning system cannot do is determine how facilities
are maintained after they are there.
430. Why not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because planning is about
determining what you do with land, whether you allow it to be
developed. You can help by making decisions about the design of
what is proposed to ensure that maintenance would be easy, but
I do not think the role of the planning system is to say, "That
site is not being maintained properly. Therefore we intervene
in some way."
431. One of the specific criticisms of the PPG
is that the design of recreational facilities was not clear and
there was not explicit guidance.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to design
issues where an application for development is made I think the
planning system has got a role to play and setting quality standards
for sports, recreational and green space facilities is something
the planning system can do. Mr Betts's question I understood was
432. The two things are directly connected.
If you do not put the quality into the guidance then people cannot
maintain it. They are not unconnected.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I agree with that.
433. It does not cease to exist once you have
given permission for it to be built.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I entirely agree with
that. That is why good design is something one should focus on
in relation to planning and if and in so far as I was suggesting
that planning had no part to play in determining how things would
be maintained afterwards, then I am wrong. Obviously they have
got that design aspect, and we should be promoting good design
which we hope they will do by producing guidelines and good practice
that will accompany PPG17 when it becomes a final rather than
a draft document.
Sir Paul Beresford
434. You have mentioned several times that the
local authority should be assessing need. How do local authorities
go about that? It is one of the questions we have asked some of
the others. I am saying this in the light of the fact that many
local authorities will assess need according to demand. One of
the problems of anyone with any interest in sport in this country
is that we need to generate more sport, more activity and thereby
generate more demand. I know that Australia suffered rather badly
on Saturday but that is an exception. One only has to look at
our performance and the reaction of our athletes in Sydney to
the facilities offered there, to the attitude there, to the whole
drive for sport. If you are sitting in Tower Hamlets and the only
patch of grass is something that is weed coming through the pavements,
it is pie in the sky.
(Ms Keeble) There are three issues there. One is about
the assessments, one is about the space standards and the other
is about the quality. In terms of the assessment, there is a large
chunk about that in the PPG. It is quite right that local authorities
should assess local needs and that should be in terms of sporting
needs, and also recreational needs and the needs of people like
in Tower Hamlets simply to have a bit of green grass and a bit
of open space. It is quite right that they should make those assessments
in the light of their local circumstances. There are then issues
about space standards. Sport England has done a lot of discussion
around that and have opened up the whole issue about the kind
of standards for sporting facilities. Where there are no space
standards are on land for recreation and open space, more general
requirements for a local community. There is the old playing fields
one which is a bit formulaic and in some ways not terribly helpful.
What one of the working parties of the Task Force, and in fact
your Committee adviser is on it, will be looking at is the possible
space standards for open spaces and seeing if we can produce something
that will ensure that there is some sort of minimum guideline
that people can work to although there is an issue there about
whether it is acres per population or whether you say it is so
many minutes' walk from where people live. There are two different
approaches to that and I suspect that the second will be more
useful. In terms of the quality, obviously again Sport England
has got particular views and advice to give about the quality
of sporting facilities. There is a real issue in terms of the
quality of open space and recreational facilities and play areas
and things like that for children in particular, but also for
people with disabilities and other groups. This is one of the
things that the Task Force is looking at and is particularly concerned
aboutthat it is not just a question of having the amount
of space. It is whether it is usable space, it is whether there
are the kinds of facilities there that will provide a good quality
experience and constructive things for people to do in the green
435. Thank you. The answer had a lot more "shoulds"
than "hows" but I will leave that. One of the things
you raised was the minimum standards. One of the difficulties
with minimum standards, if I look at some of the avaricious developments
around, is that minimum standards will then be taken as the maximum
and you run the risk of a challenge if you want to raise those.
How will you deal with that?
(Ms Keeble) That is obviously one of the key problems
about having a minimum standard, that it does tend to become a
maximum. However, you have to set against that the fact that at
present, for example, for spaces like Tower Hamlets, there is
nothing that says whether the people living there should be able
to access any green space, and since a lot of them live in flats
they are not going to have back gardens. So there are real issues,
I think, about saying should we look at making sure that there
is some kind of a standard or benchmark set, which is an improvement
on the old playing fields one, which will deal with some of the
access issues and with issues of disadvantage.
436. Can I make one point on the issue of maintenance
that I raised before. We seem to be getting back again to the
usability of open space, its quality. Again, you were saying to
us earlier that the planning community deal with that where there
is a development taking place and could control the quality of
that, but all these issues, particularly for existing urban areas,
are back to existing open space, in fact we are back to the issue
of maintenance every time. How are we going to link it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a complaint about
the planning system, is it not, at the moment, which is that the
planning system does not connect in enough with other policy?
437. Can you sketch that in?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One of the issues that
the planning Green Paper will address is how do you connect what
the land use planning system is doing with things like community
strategies for local authorities, with for example regeneration
proposals in a particular area, with, for example, policies in
relation to social exclusion? You frequently find for example
that there is a regeneration planned in a particular area, yet
another part of the local authority, when dealing with planning
issues, is pursuing a completely different course. You therefore
need, when development plans are being set out in a particular
area, to make sure that the development plan is consistent with
whatever other policies that land use may affect and is consistent
with those policies that the local authority are following. Here
what you would like would be local authorities to have general
policies in relation to the identification and preservation and
development of new leisure space, new sports space, reserving
green space, maintaining it well, and a land use planning series
of policies which exactly reflect that. They would have an overall
policy on, say, green space which will include good maintenance
and where they want to develop new ones. Their land use planning
policies, the local development plan, would reflect them. That
is not what happens at the moment.
438. Thank you for that admission. You did say
at the start that many of the points you picked out which were
critical of PPG17 were about the general planning process but
some are quite specific to the PPG and in particular the absence
of any emphasis on hard surface spaces, the concentration on vegetation,
greenery and so on. Is that a real omission? Should that have
been in PPG17?
(Ms Keeble) That comes down to your definition of
what you consider to be an open space and a green space. What
we take this PPG to refer to, and you can see there is a variety
of definitions in the PPG, is that it would be green spaces primarily
and spaces that are used for recreational or leisure purposes
so it would not include pavements and home zones.
(Ms Keeble) It would include green squares but probably
not the paved over squares.