Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MS SALLY KEEBLE, MS JOYCE BRIDGES AND MR PETER MATTHEW
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
80. Surely, if the Department wanted to deal with that issue, you could issue guidance to local authorities who should put more funding into that area. You could provide more through the SSA for that purpose and put that in your guidance.
(Ms Keeble) The government has yet to make its response to the task force recommendations and that response is obviously going to come out in July. That will have to deal with the funding issues. We are dependent on the review. I am explaining what the task force thinking was in using those figures but also in looking forward as to how to deal seriously with the spending deficit on parks and make sure that the money that is intended to go to parks goes directly there, which is why we have mentioned the Lottery, Barclays and Site Savers and there is mention of dealing with the skills deficit. The big focus is that the task force went for capital rather than revenue funding with 100 million a year over five years.
81. What is the government thinking about how to provide extra funding for this purpose?
(Ms Keeble) That we have to look at and will put in the response in July.
82. Will all of that be in time to go into the spending review?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The spending review will come out by the end of July. The response to the task force's report will obviously have to be coordinated with the spending review. Louise's questions are about is there going to be more money made available for local government so spend on public space. I cannot tell you at the moment, but whatever is said in response to this will be consistent with what happens in relation to the spending review.
83. Do you feel happy in this role of chairing the task force and then you are going to respond to the task force? It is asking yourself for permission, is it not?
(Ms Keeble) It was something that was raised and there were some discussions about it. It was absolutely right to have a minister to chair the task force because I think it provided it with forward movement. It also made it possible to continue to take up the work and continue with it and not just sit and wait for the government response. We will have already talked about having the enablers fund. We do not have the amount yet but we are going to get the modelling done. We have the interim committee set up and that is going on. We have the extra demonstration projects. It has meant that, instead of having a report come in and then everybody sits about and waits for the government response, it has been possible to continue and keep the momentum up and take it forward. By and large, whilst it has occasionally involved members of the task force having to think carefully about what they want their chair to do, I think it has been very constructive.
84. I am sure they want their chair to come up with a strong report and then to say yes to the report.
(Ms Keeble) Of course they do, but I think it has been a very constructive way of working and I think it has produced a good report which has been possible to carry forward as well.
85. One of the most welcome recommendations of the task force was the £500 million which has been allocated initially over a five year period for spending on urban green parks. The New Opportunities Fund is referred to as possibly providing some of this additional funding. What is the response from the spending review to this?
(Ms Keeble) We are obviously going to have to wait for that or we are going to have to wait for what happens to the spending review for any extra money from the public purse. Obviously, the government is going to come up with its full response to the task force proposals in July.
86. Are you optimistic?
(Ms Keeble) I think the task force has made a very clear case and they have been very focused on making sure that their recommendations will feed right into public spaces and not disappear into a general, local government kitty. Based on the track record of what has happened with spend in this area in terms of Barclays, SiteSavers, and Groundwork and the Lottery, there is reason to think it is within reach.
87. Lottery funding for public spaces has been very disappointing. Will the Lottery be providing more funding for public spaces following the cross-cutting review?
(Ms Keeble) For green spaces, it has been quite good, something like 250 million a year. For public spaces, it has been different.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) According to the report, the Heritage Lottery Fund has had a £250 million urban parks programme and the New Opportunities Fund launched a scheme worth about £80 million to support improvements to urban green spaces in England, so it has spent over £320 million.
88. Over what period of time?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Over the last three years.
89. It is not a lot of parks, is it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is quite a lot of money.
90. There is a difference. Not many parks are really benefiting from it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is the money that has been spent. What the report is saying is it is 100 million of the 500 million under- investment over a period of time and we need to talk to the Lottery about what contribution they can make, but there is a critical point. If there is a problem about maintaining existing parks, there needs to be a focus on that just as much as on the capital expenditure in relation to new parks.
91. It is even worse than that, is it not, because, as I understand it, the Lottery Fund insists that if they give money for history parks to be done up, the local authority then commits itself to do the maintenance of that for the next ten years and that may well be at the expense of other parks in their area.
(Ms Keeble) That is also perhaps why local authorities need the strategic approach, which is what the task force also suggests, where it focuses not just on the large spaces but also the small spaces which often get hopelessly overlooked. You can look at a whole series of small spaces which have been funded, for example, through the work that Barclays have done or through some of the Lottery money which has transformed areas and added to the usable green space, particularly in some of the disadvantaged areas in the inner cities. There are some very spectacular examples around London and other cities.
92. Can I ask you a very provocative question? In view of the fact that many of our grass playing pitches are little used, in very poor condition, the subsidy that goes into them is probably the highest of any sporting subsidy, if you look, per player who participates. Is it time to review the policy that prevents the building on playing pitches, when you balance the fact of their condition against the fact that in so many parks in the country there is this huge need for affordable housing and the largest deterrent to affordable housing is the cost of land?
(Ms Keeble) We already have strategies for dealing with sports fields. Sport England has worked very closely with the Department on the new guidance being planned and is also a very constructive member of the task force as well. They have worked very closely with us to look at the issues around making sure that we balance housing needs with needs for sports areas and open spaces. They have been very important in highlighting the needs of smaller spaces, not just the larger spaces. One of the themes that runs through the task force report is the need to ensure that, where you have new housing even in the inner city areas, you have proper provision of green spaces. Sport England lobbies hard for the play areas as well.
93. My question was are you prepared to look again at the policy in the light of finding a socially beneficial, alternative use for these little used pitches.
(Ms Keeble) To look at the protection for the small areas?
(Ms Keeble) We gave the Committee a look at that previously, did we not?
95. No; the fact that there is a hard and fast rule at the moment which prevents development on playing fields.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a presumption against it but it can take place. I do not think we have any intention to look at that.
96. Would it not be reasonable to say, "Yes, you can have that presumption as long as the pitch is playable on for at least a fortnight in the year"? There are some local authorities who have pitches, supposedly green, and you get stuck in the mud for nine months of the year.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We say the presumption continues but there are circumstances in which playing fields can be used. We have no plans to change the policy.
97. How does the government believe that Business Improvement Districts will work to enhance public spaces? Have you any ideas about how you are going to attract local businesses to get involved?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Local businesses will get attracted to BIDs if they see the area which they are in enhanced and therefore their business enhanced. The area in which they are will be enhanced if more money is spent on the area and there is clarity about who is responsible for doing what. The obvious example is the shopping centre in a city centre or the city centre with shops in it. The retailers there will be attracted to BIDs if they lead to improvements in the city centre and a coordination of responsibility for dealing with antisocial behaviour, dealing with cleanliness, dealing with making it attractive for people to come there.
98. Business would be quite happy to make a contribution towards these issues?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think they will in many cases and there are places where, on a voluntary basis, they are doing it at the moment.
99. For instance?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are discussing it in the BIDs south of the river.