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


Examination of Witness (Questions 540-559)

RT HON RICHARD CABORN MP AND MR NIALL MACKENZIE

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001

Chairman

  540. We do not have any disagreement over that.
  (Mr Caborn) In that case we try to put these things into their relative position, the relative position is there needs to be on Sport England's estimate £10 billion going to sports facilities to bring them up to the internationally recognised standard. As far as green space is concerned there is that initiative, it has been, some would argue, slow in the action on the ground but I think, and rightly so, the New Opportunities Fund are looking very carefully to make sure it has been into targeted areas. If you just release this, as some were advising we should do, it would have gone to the normal suspects who are very quick on the uptake. This has been very clearly targeted into areas which we believe actually lives within the terms of reference that we were given for the Green Space Initiative.

Dr Pugh

  541. It does not seem to be disputed that only 3 per cent of the allocated funds for green space sustainability communities has been spent. That is very, very prudent behaviour. That would be regarded on many programmes as a failure. If it is a failure who is responsible for the failure?
  (Mr Caborn) I do not see it as a failure, I see it as a matter of building up an infrastructure to be able to target those funds. I hope, it is right to criticise and raise the point, as we evolve our further expenditure lines into these areas that that infrastructure is there and we have to target it somewhat quicker than we have done in the past.

  542. On a more amicable note, would you take up the slow rate of spending or will you be taking up the slow rate of spending that the New Opportunities Fund shows historically.
  (Mr Caborn) I have already done that I can assure you. I meet the New Opportunities Fund every month. I have said in the new development of the 3.5 million I want to see some fast tracking on that. Obviously the bigger the strategic expenditure it needs to have more consideration. I think we now have to be slightly more sophisticated in the dispensing of these funds than we have been before. That is no criticism in the development of funding and the lines of public funds, I think that has been wise, it has been prudent and it is going now to the right targets which we want to hit.

  543. This was a temporary glitch.
  (Mr Caborn) It was a learning curve.

Mr Cummings

  544. Would the Minister agree that perhaps putting spending on green spaces conflicts with the objectives of PPG17 and also the Urban White Paper, which has highlighted the need to improve and renovate parts in open spaces? Would you agree that some people may well see this as evidence of a lack of joined-up government? Would the Minister tell the Committee on what basis was the decision made to spend less on green pays under the Transforming Communities Initiative than was proposed in the Green Paper and Sustainable Communities Programme?
  (Mr Caborn) I do not believe that to be the case. I would like to see the evidence for that.

Chairman

  545. The real problem is that we all know people play football in the park on Saturday, we also know that people walk their dogs and kids mess about on green space, but we tend to know more people who walk their dogs and kids who mess about on green space than we do who play football in the park on a Saturday afternoon.
  (Mr Caborn) That is a decision that the local authority have to make in its needs assessment. That is exactly what the planning regime is there for, is it not, to make that needs assessment.

  546. I understand that. We are talking about the extra money which is going into things like green spaces and the Sustainable Communities Programme. In that allocation money should something be done to reject what appears to be more money being spent from the Lottery on specialist sport facilities than is being spent on the dog walkers and other people who want to use informal green space?
  (Mr Caborn) One thing that has happened in the whole debate about the urban regeneration and the urban renaissance is it has brought green space and open space much more into the political limelight than it had before. What we have been able to do is to respond as a government to that need by the Green Space Initiative and by the Transforming Communities and that is for the next round of three years. Obviously if that is successful I have no doubt the government will look at how we can invest more money into those areas. I would not want it to be at the expense, quite honestly, in terms of expenditure, of sport. I think there is a crying need in this country to lift green spaces, open spaces, and sports facilities of all kinds because we are way, way behind our major competitors in this. It is something that we as a nation, indeed as a government, we need to continue to invest in. Do not let us rob Peter to pay Paul. I hope that government could be guided through this Select Committee that we need more investment in that.

Mr Cummings

  547. Are you robbing Paul to pay Peter?
  (Mr Caborn) No, not at all. I am saying this is new money that has come into an arena, an area that has been sadly left behind, it has been brought to light because of what this government has done in bringing out the debate on the urban need and driving, as the deputy Prime Minister put very clearly over the last three to four years, through the Rogers Report, then the Urban White Paper. We brought this to the forefront and now we are investing in what is clearly an area that has been under invested in in the past.

  548. So I clearly understand the basis on which the decision was made to spend less on green space is one that you wish to concentrate more upon sport, is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Caborn) I do not accept there is less spent on green spaces to start with, Mr Bennett, but if the evidence is there, fine, I will be more than pleased to consider that. What I am saying is, there is new money now being invested in green spaces through the various initiatives I have just outlined.

Mrs Ellman

  549. Sport England is clearly a very effective advocate for sport, do you think those concerned about open spaces lose out because there is no equivalent champion?
  (Mr Caborn) I do not think so. What we have been able to do, first of all, is to say how important open spaces are to the urban renaissance, as indeed how important sport is. It would be wrong to drive an artificial wedge between the two, I think it would do a disservice to both. There needs to be an investment in both financially and it needs to be part of local assessment by the local authorities to make sure that balance is right. They are the people that should be able to do that, they are the people on the ground, as it were. I hope the government policy in the round will be positively encouraging that and PPG17 will be getting another tool in a very proactive way promoting these policies.

  550. We heard a lot of criticism of PPG17 as presently drafted on the basis that it talks a lot more about sport than it does about open spaces, do you agree with those criticisms?
  (Mr Caborn) I think PPG17 as it stood on the last draft needs to be strengthened, it needs to be more proactive. Again I repeat what I said, I do not think we ought to drive artificial wedges between green spaces and sport. What we want is both to grow in our open areas and also to be of good quality and accessible to people and we need to continue to invest in that. It is about the quality of life and both, I think, create a synergy for that.

Mr Betts

  551. Going back to the evidence that Sport England gave to us, they were highly critical of the draft guidance as it stands as providing inadequate protection for the playing field, it says it provides less protection than the 1991 version, what is your view of that situation?
  (Mr Caborn) I think there is some justification for what Sport England said at that time. After representations through my department there have been a series of meetings, both at official level and ministerial level. I hope that those concerns that Sport England genuinely have are going to be addressed in the final draft. This is part of dialogue, the reason I am here is you are looking at it as a Committee and I hope we will able to get a more proactive PPG17 than we had 10 years ago.

  552. A Sporting Future For All said that the government will publish monthly figures on the strength of your proposal, since the first meeting of the group 15 months ago how many monthly reports have been published?
  (Mr Caborn) None to the best of my knowledge. It is an area, as you probably know, Mr Betts, that has been a great concern of mine since I was the planning minister. It is a credit to this administration that in 1998 we took action and at least we stopped, to a large extent, the wholesale sell-off of playing fields. I agree with you, the statistical base has been somewhat challengeable and we needed to get that right. I hope by the early part of next year, I mean probably January or February, we will have a proper database of that. I share your concern. It has been raised with my officials and we are now moving, I hope, in the direction where we have a firmer and sound decision base to make decisions on.

  553. Are you saying that the information is not currently available, it is there but it is not published?
  (Mr Caborn) We are still working through some of the methodology, I do not know whether Mr Mackenzie would like to add to that.
  (Mr Mackenzie) The data already exists, the problem is that there are different kinds of data.

Chairman

  554. Is it embarrassing?
  (Mr Mackenzie) No, no. The bulk of the data is already published. There are 3 sets of figures which we have been discussing with the Department for Education, DTLR, the National Playing Fields Association and the Central Council of Physical Recreation. These figures relate to the DFES procedures, whereby local education authorities have to seek DFES approval to dispose or build on playing fields or hard play areas. There are equally the figures compiled by Sport England as part of their role as statutory consultees on all publicly owned playing fields. In addition there are those cases where the DTLR have cases referred to their ministers. These figures are all produced by different time bases and there is double counting and gaps in it. What we are trying to do is produce a comprehensive set of statistics understandable to everyone which meets the concern of the groups such as the NPFA and CCPR and that presents it fairly and openly without any bias. On the basis of these figures an informed debate on playing field policy can go forward. We have made substantial progress and we are on the verge of having figures to produce. We are aware it has been too long producing these but we have been trying.

Mrs Dunwoody

  555. Is it a wide verge?
  (Mr Mackenzie) No, it should not be. We have draft tables ready which we are going to discuss with the interested parties in the first week of December.

  556. It would important for us to know, I can give you an example in my constituency where a great deal of money has gone into the creation of an athletics track, which was jointly by owned by the county and the council, where they have not built on the area concerned, they simply let the track run down to the point where it is no longer viable. It has taken a great deal of effort to get anybody to take an interest in getting money back. These kind of elements are ever so important to the people concerned, it is on the verge of a special area where we have an enormous drugs problem and all sorts of difficulties, so the sooner you can get your statistics into order the sooner we can stimulate a debate.
  (Mr Mackenzie) I agree with you.
  (Mr Caborn) I do not think we have to wait for statistics, Mrs Dunwoody, what I am saying very clearly is as far as the government are concerned we are investing and continue to invest in sports facilities.

Chairman

  557. You hope to have some money for Crewe, is that it?
  (Mr Caborn) No, no.

Mrs Dunwoody

  558. What a good idea. I am glad you came.
  (Mr Caborn) In the normal objective way we always dispense money to Crewe.

Mr Betts

  559. The objective is to get the figures made public by January or February.
  (Mr Caborn) We genuinely need to do that.


 
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