Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (PPG 17)


  1.1  The consultation draft revision of PPG 17 on Sport, Open Space and Recreation was issued on 21 March 2001. It was produced in close co-operation between the Departments for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) and for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Both Departments will continue to work closely in producing the final version. The 12-week period for consultation responses ended on 15 June. The analysis of those responses, of which there were more than 400, is continuing. The Government has said that it hopes to issue the final version of the revised guidance by the end of this year, though clearly it will wish to consider in detail the Committee's report of this inquiry before finalising the new PPG 17.

  1.2  The Committee will also be aware of the Government's intention to issue a Green Paper on planning. In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research on 26 July 2001 covering the possible future reform of the planning system, the Secretary of State expressed a view that there might be too much planning guidance at the national level and too much detail in PPGs. He also considered that there might be a case for asking whether more responsibility should be given for establishing policy guidance at the regional level. Depending on decisions taken in the context of the Green Paper there may be a need to review the scope, content and detail of current draft PPG 17 before the final version is published.

  1.3  This memorandum sets out the context for the new PPG17 in terms of the Government's wider policy aims and objectives. It specifically addresses the five terms of reference identified by the Committee. For that reason, the content of the memorandum has a stronger emphasis on open space and informal recreation than on sport.


  2.1  Prior to the revision of PPG 17, the Government had already expressed its concerns about the increasing amounts of playing fields and open space being lost to development and had taken action. For example, in 1998 the Government issued the Playing Fields Direction[22] to ensure that planning applications involving the loss of playing fields were brought to the attention of the Secretary of State (DTLR). Applications may be, and have been, called in for the Secretary of State's own determination so as to ensure that proper account is taken of the impacts of the loss of facilities on the local community.

  2.2  When finalised the revision of PPG 17 will replace the guidance issued in September 1991. The earlier version of PPG 17 was issued before the key issue of sustainable development was recognised as the central tenet of the planning system. Fundamental changes in policy which have occurred since then have meant that PPG 17 was increasingly out of step with other areas of government policy. It did not, for example, focus on the contribution that planning policies, especially those for open space and sport, could make towards achieving the Government's broader policy objectives to promote an urban renaissance (as now set out in the Urban White Paper)[23] through the creation of better quality living environments. Neither did it recognise the important role that sport can play in achieving social inclusion by enabling more people in the most deprived neighbourhoods to participate in sports activities and to have access to a broader range of sporting and recreational facilities. Nor did it reflect the more fundamental changes to national planning policy on issues such as ensuring access to facilities through means other than the private car.

  2.3  The Urban White Paper sets out the Government's approach to the design and development of urban areas, including making more efficient use of land and buildings and thereby reducing the loss of countryside to new development. Key elements are to ensure that urban areas are well laid out with good quality, well-designed and attractive buildings which are set in the context of good quality open spaces and that all in the community have ready access to sport and leisure facilities by good public transport, walking and cycling.


  3.1  The new PPG 17 aims to redress the deficiencies of the previous version by placing planning policies on sport, open space and recreation firmly in the context of the Government's broader policy objectives. It identifies the key role that open spaces and land for informal recreation or sport can play in improving the attractiveness of towns and cities, drawing people to them, making them more lively and successful, and reducing the numbers of people looking to move away from the hearts of our towns and cities towards suburban areas and the countryside. It places the provision of well-planned open space and sports and recreation facilities that are accessible, attractive and safe at the heart of the Government's vision for urban areas and stresses how they can contribute positively to people's quality of life and promote the health and well-being of the communities able to use them. The new PPG 17 also addresses the role of creating more sustainable towns and cities by making open space and sports and recreation facilities more accessible by walking and cycling and by ensuring that more heavily used or intensive sport and recreational facilities are planned for locations well served by public transport.


  4.1  PPG 17 establishes the context for local planning authorities to plan strategically for sport, open space and recreation. The guidance it contains is designed to be promulgated through specific policies in regional planning guidance and local authority development plans. PPG 17 clearly identifies what types of policies are appropriate at each level of the planning hierarchy. Those policies should then be used as a basis for reaching decisions on planning applications. The success of the guidance in achieving Government objectives will depend to a large degree on the ability of local authorities to use the guidance to create effective development plan policies and then to take rational and consistent decisions based on those policies.

  4.2  In broad terms, PPG 17 provides a clear statement of the Government's intention that local authorities should protect existing sport, open space and recreational facilities and create new ones. It complements the Government's key commitment to concentrate new development on previously-developed land in urban areas and to minimise the development of greenfield sites. Key elements of the new guidance include the need for local authorities to:

    —  make proper assessments of existing and future requirements in their area for sport, open space and recreation;

    —  plan in a positive manner for the provision and enhancement of sports and recreational facilities and open space;

    —  provide the strongest level of protection for, and resist pressures for the development of, open space that is, or that has the potential to be, of value to the community. PPG 17 now recognises the full range of valuable functions that open space can perform for a community. These include defining and separating urban areas; improving urban environments by providing attractive green spaces; providing areas of open space for informal recreation; providing habitats for flora and fauna; acting as a valuable resource for community events; and providing general visual amenity.


  5.1  The starting point for effective planning for sport, open space and recreation must be local assessments of the needs of an area, the facilities that are already available in an area, and the opportunities that exist for the creation of new facilities and the improvement of existing facilities. The outcome of these assessments will need to take full account of the potential land use implications and should, therefore, be an integral part of the work undertaken in the preparation of development plans by local authorities. That will ensure that the provision of sport, open space and recreational facilities in an area is planned alongside all the other land use needs of a particular community.

  5.2  Assessments should be undertaken for all types of informal and formal recreation (including parks, playgrounds, allotments and informal open space) as well as mainstream and specialist sports facilities in line with the recommendations set out in the Government's Plan for Sport. The Government is assisting in the promotion of good practice through the New Opportunities Fund Green Spaces Initiative which is in part assisting local authorities to produce playing pitch strategies.

  5.3  Guidance in PPG 17 gives information on the factors to be taken account in making such assessments. These include the need for assessments to cover the specific needs of the community concerned. Local authorities should take account of the overall demographic structure of an area but should also give specific consideration to the needs of individual groups, for example, the disabled, ethnic minorities, women and children, and the socially excluded. Assessments should cover the needs of residents, but also the needs of people working and visiting areas. They should also look at the specific needs of locally significant sporting or recreational interests.

  5.4  The Government is considering whether the guidance in PPG 17 should be supplemented by more detailed good practice guidance on how such assessments can be undertaken. The views of the Committee on this would be welcome.

  5.5  Until, and unless, local authorities undertake such assessments, they will not be in a position to develop appropriate planning policies for their areas. Having undertaken the necessary assessments, local authorities will be in a position to establish locally based and justified standards for provision through appropriate policies in their development plans. This may include additional provision to be created through policies which set out planning obligations for new developments.

  5.6  The Government has considered whether national standards should be included in the new PPG 17, but firmly believes that local assessments are a better approach to planning for sport, open space and recreation than one which sets minimum standards of provision to be applied across the whole country. The Government does not believe that national standards can cater for the wide variety of situations found in individual local authorities. For example, needs and opportunities in a large inner city authority with a predominantly young population may be radically different from those in a district with a higher than average elderly or retired population. The Government therefore considers that the differing demographics and characteristics of individual local authorities determine that assessment of need should be undertaken at the local level. The previous version of PPG 17 included illustrative material to help local authorities formulate local standards. However, experience suggests that local authorities have tended to use this illustrative material in a prescriptive manner and as an absolute standard rather than as a starting point for their own assessments.

  5.7  The Committee specifically raised the question about the extent to which the new PPG 17 reconciled the need for open space and sports provision. If proper assessments have been undertaken by local authorities which identify the need for all types of recreational activity, whether they be formal or informal, then the question of reconciling different recreational uses should not arise. Local authorities should plan and make provision, subject to the availability of land and competing pressures on its use, on the basis of the assessments they have undertaken. The key message in the new PPG 17 is that local planning authorities should create planning policies which aim to ensure that all recreational needs are met, and that existing opportunities are not lost to other types of competing land uses such as new housing.


  6.1  Proper assessment of needs and opportunities should form the background to the development of policies in regional planning guidance and development plans which are designed to protect and enhance existing provision and to establish and maintain new opportunities for sport and recreation. Such planning policies may include establishing new open space and sport and recreational facilities as part of developments; requiring enhancements or contributions to sport and recreational provision as a condition for new developments; improving the quality, quantity or accessibility of open space, sporting facilities and recreational opportunities by securing relocations as part of broader development proposals; removing deficiencies in open space by adaptation of other, surplus, land; and directing new recreational developments and major sports facilities to locations that are accessible and where they will assist regeneration and urban renaissance.


  7.1  Good quality public open space is an essential element in the creation of high quality living conditions for all. It is an essential part of an urban fabric that should also include good quality buildings and well designed streets which will help to deliver the Government's objective of an urban renaissance. PPG 17 provides the framework for local authorities to protect existing open space and to encourage the creation of new high quality areas of open space within and adjoining urban areas. Open spaces in the context of PPG 17 includes all open spaces within and adjoining urban areas—for example, playing fields, parks, allotments, cemeteries, urban woodland and other informal sites for recreation.

  7.2  Inclusion of policies relating to open space is not a new subject in PPG 17. The 1991 version did make reference to the role of open space in informal recreation. In the new PPG 17 two new elements to policies relating to open space are included. Firstly the wide range of specific functions that open space can perform are specifically recognised. Secondly, it requires all open space to be protected from development unless a local authority assessment has determined that it ceases to have any value to the local community. Local authorities should therefore look to include positive policies in plans which not only protect existing open spaces, but also encourage the provision of new areas of open space as part of new developments.


  8.1  The Urban White Paper sets out a comprehensive package of proposals for improving parks, play areas and green spaces, including the revision to PPG 17. The new PPG 17 reaffirms the importance of green spaces to improving the attractiveness of places, the quality of local environments and of people's lives especially in urban areas. The guidance establishes a strategic approach to planning for green spaces that should be more effective in ensuring that local needs for parks, play areas and green spaces are properly assessed, that adequate provision is made, and that such provision is safeguarded from development, especially in areas of deficiency. In these ways the guidance, and the planning process, have an important contribution to make in ensuring that local people have access to good quality green spaces, and to the delivery of the Government's White Paper initiatives for improving urban green spaces and play areas.

  8.2  The Government is looking at a number of ways of effectively harnessing the contribution that the planning process can make. These include ensuring that its role and potential is better understood not only by local planning authorities, but also by those involved in creating, managing and maintaining urban green spaces and play areas. Such issues are being considered by the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce, which was set up in January this year to assist a DTLR Minister in developing a shared vision and proposals for the future of our urban green spaces. The Government wants to establish what people are looking for from their urban green spaces and the extent to which needs of particular groups are met, including the disadvantaged, ethnic minorities, women and children. The Taskforce has set up a working group to explore in detail proposals for "Improving planning, design, provision, management and maintenance of urban green spaces and play areas". The Group should identify and assess effective approaches for planning, creating and managing urban green spaces and play areas within the wider context of local authority strategies and objectives (including community plans and the new power of well-being, green space strategies, best value and cultural strategies). This group is due to report early next year.

  8.3  In addition, DTLR plans to publish an Interim Report of the Taskforce in early November, which will set out the scope of work that has been done, early findings, on-going work and next steps.

September 2001

22   The Town and Country Planning (Playing Fields) (England) Direction 1998. Back

23   Our Towns and Cities: The Future-Delivering an Urban Renaissance (2000). Back

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