Examination of Witness (Questions 540-559)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
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.
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.
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.
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
(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.
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
(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.
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
557. You hope to have some money for Crewe,
is that it?
(Mr Caborn) No, no.
558. What a good idea. I am glad you came.
(Mr Caborn) In the normal objective way we always
dispense money to Crewe.
559. The objective is to get the figures made
public by January or February.
(Mr Caborn) We genuinely need to do that.