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



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)

LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MS SALLY KEEBLE, MS JOYCE BRIDGES AND MR PETER MATTHEW

TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002

Mrs Ellman

  60. When will the Government's Walking Strategy be published?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know.
  (Ms Keeble) The Walking Strategy is in preparation and we will have to give you details as to that.

  61. Have you any idea at all?
  (Ms Keeble) I do not know. The local authorities clearly have that to include in their Local Transport Plans.

  62. What sort of input has the Cross Cutting Review and the Urban Green Spaces Task Force had into that strategy? Can you tell us any ways in which it has been influenced by those?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As far as the Cross Cutting Review is concerned, those officials responsible for developing the Walking Strategy have been involved in preparing the Cross Cutting Report. The DTLR has been responsible for that. As far as the Urban Green Spaces Task Force is concerned, I am not sure.
  (Mr Matthew) I think we have provided the team with some information about green spaces, particularly the role of green spaces in terms of providing routes for safe walking. The earlier material we generated was passed on to you.

  63. Can you give us any examples or clues about the sorts of issues that have been assisted in this way?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The sorts of issues are: there are road safety issues; there are school travel plan issues; there are towpath, public rights of way issues; access issues; so quite a lot of issues referred to in the Walking Strategy also come up in the public realm issue.

  64. Has the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment been consulted for the preparation of this strategy?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know.
  (Ms Bridges) The Pedestrian Association, now called Living Streets, are very heavily involved in the development of restricted areas.

Chairman

  65. What is the point of having the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment? I would have thought this ought to have been consulted as far as the Walking Strategy is concerned.
  (Ms Bridges) I am pretty certain they will be consulted.

  66. They will be, but they have not been?
  (Ms Bridges) I do not think they have.

Ms King

  67. There is a lot of opinion that says we have solved problems through good design, but a lot of our submissions have repeatedly stated, again and again, that if we do not have maintenance in areas like parks, for example, it is futile. How are we going to improve the maintenance and, critically, revenue for maintenance?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Both issues are important—design and maintenance. In relation to design, the way that you design the public space may well affect how easy or difficult it is to maintain, so the two are connected up and both are important. As far as maintenance is concerned, it is about the quality of people doing it; and the Green Spaces Better Places Task Force specifically identifies a skills loss over the last 20 years, which is important. It is also about focussing expenditure. The Green Spaces Better Places document also focusses on the fact that expenditure has not been well targeted. It also involves identifying which are the priorities in relation to the maintenance of public spaces. There are also issues about the amount of resources going into maintenance. It is the quality of people doing it; it is how they are focussed; and the amount of them.

  68. Sally, you launched this in Mile End Park. Why did you choose Mile End Park?
  (Ms Keeble) Because it was a particularly good example of use of an inner urban green space, and they had done some particularly important things about reconciling some quite competing and conflicting usages. It was also because one of people closely involved in it was a member of the Task Force, and it was a very good opportunity to promote an important park.

  69. Mile End Park is, in my view, one of the most fantastic parks on the planet. That is my unbiased view as the local Member of Parliament, and as a resident who uses it daily, or at least weekly! It is very distressing that the maintenance of the park is an incredibly serious problem. There are some pictures here to show that, for example, a lot of the light fittings have all been damaged and destroyed. In defence of the council, it is a fact that the contractors promised that these were all vandal-proof. The council is now going to be entering into a dispute with the contractor because they obviously are not vandal-proof. The key point is this, is it not: you would never build a leisure centre, for example, and not expect to have staff working in it and not provide on going revenue for staff working in it, manning it and ensuring its good function; but this appears to be the strategy that most local authorities fall into when it comes to parks. How are we going to address that fundamental problem?
  (Ms Keeble) The Task Force considered at great length the issue about financial arrangements for parks. You see in the recommendation on the capital they also looked at issues about the revenue and the maintenance. There was a strong view that out of the EPCS block of local government spending that the parks had suffered in comparison, for example, with indoor leisure centres, and that that needed to be redressed. The Task Force makes a particular recommendation about having a senior member or a scrutiny committee with particular responsibility at looking at this particular issue. It also identifies a skills shortage that was mentioned previously and, therefore, the need to up the training. It also identifies a fact that there was a big loss (although this will not particularly affect Mile End Park) of both the financial base and the skills level and a deterioration of the upkeep when CCTV was introduced because that stripped a lot of financing out of the contract for parks maintenance. It also looks at the role that friends and user groups have.

Chairman

  70. You are identifying a problem; what we are asking you about is the solution.
  (Ms Keeble) I said about having a lead member or a scrutiny committee at the local authority level who can provide leadership at the local level and make sure that the parks get their fairer share out of the EPCS block at the local level. That is one of the key issues, in addition to the design, and also the training issues that need to be dealt with as well.

Ms King

  71. Does the fact that there has been a Cross Cutting Spending Review of public space mean that there will be more money available for public space in the future?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You can draw no conclusions of any sort as to what the outcome might be of the Comprehensive Spending Review of the Cross Cutting Review.

  72. Is that a no?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That came out of my mouth without reference to a note!

  Chairman: It is going that badly!

Christine Russell

  73. If there was more money, could I ask you a hypothetical question: do you think that money would be allocated direct to local authorities; or do you think it would perhaps be part of Lottery monies?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, there is plainly a role for the Lottery, particularly in relation to capital for new public space, and that is a matter to be taken up by the Lottery and it is very, very important. Oona's point is just as important—you have got to have means by which, once you have got new public space, you can actually maintain it. There needs to be a real focus on maintaining the public space that one has got. As far as local authorities are concerned, it is for them in the main to determine how they spend their money. A critical issue in relation to the Cross Cutting Review is, what are the processes by which local authorities will regard the maintenance of public space as an important issue; because in the long term it is mainstream funding with those who are responsible for maintaining the public space that will determine long term maintenance.

  74. Therefore, if we all consider that the maintenance of parks and open spaces is vitally important, should it not then be made a statutory responsibility of local authorities to do just that?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We would hope that local authorities would recognise the importance of the responsibility in relation to public space. The Local Government White Paper is saying to local government, "You have to determine your local priorities." The message that is coming loud and clear from a whole range of sources is that the public realm is an increasing priority.

Chairman

  75. If you were revising, as I think the Department is, the standard spending assessment, if you do not want to go for ring fencing, why not give local authorities a certain amount of money on the basis of the number of people who use each of their parks?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A formulaic approach for the amount of money given in the EPCS, but not ring fencing it?

  76. Yes. Surely you ought to give some local authorities some bonus for having parks that people want to go into?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure about the specific idea that you have suggested.

  77. You give me a better idea. I do not mind what idea you come up with.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We need to see if there are ways of providing funding that reward good delivery in relation to public space. I am not sure about the proposal that you have made.

  78. Let us have a better one.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What you do not want to do is to have lots and lots of initiatives with lots and lots of small amounts of money. What you need to see is if there is some sort of targeted money that could be made available where there is good performance in relation to public space. The precise details of it may not be right for me to seek to formulate now but what you are looking at is: can funding be made available, perhaps not part of the block given to local government, where you can see rewards for good performance?

Mrs Ellman

  79. The task force report identifies a deficit of 126 million in its public park assessment. What does the Treasury have to say about that?
  (Ms Keeble) That is what the task force says and the information they use is information that came out of one of our parks assessments. There is no dispute about the figure. The dispute is how we make good the deficit. One of the issues that the task force was very concerned about was that at present there is virtually no mechanism by which you can put money into parks through local authority budgets and make sure it gets there. That is one of the reasons why the task force makes a range of different proposals to get funding from external sources directly into parks.

 


 
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