Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MS SALLY KEEBLE, MS JOYCE BRIDGES AND MR PETER MATTHEW
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
100. You said they are doing it and then you said they are discussing it. I asked you where they had done it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure they are actually doing it south of the river at the moment but the fact that they are planning it without legislation indicates they are willing to do it without legislation.
(Ms Bridges) The Central London Partnership is leading on a programme of five BID type exercises around central London, one in Waterloo, one in Paddington, one in Holborn and I cannot remember where the other two are.
101. You can go and see the benefits of this as opposed to people talking about it?
(Ms Bridges) I am sure they would be delighted to show you because they are very proud of the work that has been done so far, but it is still work in progress. Quite a few other cities are well down the road of setting up voluntary BIDs - Birmingham, for example, in New Street is in advanced negotiations with its retailers. There is quite a lot of interest.
102. Are we going to get legislation on this in the Local Government Bill?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The intention is to legislate in the Local Government Bill, yes.
103. Moving to the issue of 106 agreements, they have been used quite regularly by authorities to look at additional community benefits when housing schemes are involved. Do you think they should be extended more widely in their use to commercial developments and how is that going to tie in with the proposals on tariffs?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, I do think they should be extended more widely and the method that we propose in the planning Green Paper documents is by tariffs. That would allow local authorities to specify what their menu of improvements was in a particular district and if that included green space then the tariff would contribute to that.
104. Is there not a problem with many of these initiatives, whether it be looking at an additional levy through the Business Improvement District or purely a tariff? They tend to work best where there is added value around which can be tapped into and that does not help some of the poorest areas with some of these problems.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is why the tariff is so good because the tariff will permit the local authority to identify planning gainfor example, right in the centre of a successful citywhich can then be used for deprived areas in a different part of the city, which cannot happen at the moment.
105. You may have some local authorities which have generally fairly poor areas all round. It is difficult to see how they can cross-subsidise from sites with considerable gain to others.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree. If the position is that the land values in a particular area cannot sustain any tariff at all, our position is, in those circumstances, the tariff should be nil because you do not want the tariff to choke off development but ultimately there has to be a connection between the value of the land or the development and the tariff that is being charged.
106. Getting back to enhancement for public space, given that some authorities will have far less ability to use these other mechanisms, is the government going to skew its assistance in terms of direct support to help those authorities that have less opportunity to get gain through other mechanisms?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The question of how one assists local authorities in relation to public space is something that has been looked at overall in relation to the comprehensive spending review, so I cannot answer the question directly.
107. Let us just look at the tariff issue. The City of London probably has a pretty good street scene because it has a lot of money to spend on it and, on the whole, it does it very well. If it was getting tariff income from a development in the City of London, probably the logical place to spend it would be into Tower Hamlets. How is that going to work?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) By pooling arrangements between local authorities. A pan-London approach is possible; neighbouring authorities are possible or authorities in some sort of geographical relationship.
108. Is this going to be voluntary?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. In relation to affordable housing in London, for example, one would envisage agreements being reached across London boroughs. It would not be restricted to housing; it would be restricted to
109. So voluntary in the sense that boroughs are going to have to enter into agreements; or can they choose?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In the first instance, they would be voluntary, yes.
110. Giving money away has not been one of your strongest points.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, but sensible local authorities would realise that everybody benefits. It must benefit a neighbouring city to ensure that there is affordable housing in neighbouring authorities.
111. The task force talks quite a lot about local leadership and community involvement. How do you see that working in practice and the relationship of the local authority and community groups working together? How are you going to avoid the local authority saying to the local green groups, "It is your responsibility to look after this public space"?
(Ms Keeble) There was quite a lot of discussion on the task force about who had to take the lead in all of this. In the end, it was the local authority because they own most of the parkland anyway. They have a role to play to draw up their green strategies and to identify their public spaces and so on. We talked a lot and one of the working parties looked in a great deal of detail at partnership work in working with the community. In one part of the task force report you will see the rules of engagement, where we set out some good practice guides as to how you should involve the local community. It was seen to be a supportive role because obviously you cannot just transfer the responsibility, particularly if you are dealing with disadvantaged areas. The role of Friends Groups was particularly important in developing and promoting parks and green spaces. Equally, the role of the public and others in using the parks and spaces can really transform them. We thought it was absolutely crucial that the local authority still had a lead responsibility and that has clearly worked through.
112. Do you think that the local authorities, if you expect them to take the lead, have the skills and the expertise in-house in order to take the lead?
(Ms Keeble) That is one of the reasons why we set out some principles for how it should be done. That involves not just drawing up a plan and asking people what they think but getting them involved at a very early stage. For example, getting children involved in designing the kind of facilities that they want. One of the other things we are doing is we are providing this enabling fund, the pump priming one that was referred to, where we are going to help some local authorities to start putting this into practice. We are doing the work on developing that now.
113. How do you answer charges that the call for greater community involvement in the maintenance of public spaces is trying to get the public to do what the local authority should do?
(Ms Keeble) If you look at those parks where there is good community involvement, they are light years away from the parks that are designed by somebody else and maintained by somebody else and the public are allowed to use them. You can also see some very interesting work done in terms of engagement with particular sectors of the community. A park is not just something that looks nice and is a statement of civic pride; it is part of the regeneration of the community and the education strategies, the health strategies. Blackburn had a very good strategy for incorporating their parks into regeneration and there is a very active role there for the Friends Group. They also used it to deal with some youth crime problems because they had young offenders teams doing some of the work as part of getting them engaged in the community and into work. Southend, for example, had very good educational facilities in their parks. They also used this as a half-way house for people with mental health problems to do some work and then to go into open employment. People who say it is just a passing of the buck are not looking at the reality of the very good practice in parks where the community is engaged and where, in some instances, they might want more control rather than less over the park. The local authority provides the underpinning for that in terms of land ownership and having key responsibility so that it does not just become passing the buck.
114. Should a local authority ever withdraw from ultimate responsibility for maintenance of public space?
(Ms Keeble) I do not think they will. It is their property. There is a variety of different ways in which it has been out-sourced, I suppose, from what Lewisham is doing with their PFI to some areas where there is a community trust that might want to have ownership of the land and then do the development. There clearly has to be some underpinning of all of that and that is the role of the local authority. A good local authority could follow the guidelines set out in the task force report and make sure that it is a really good partnership working and it is well built into all their other strategies for the community.
115. It is very frustrating that litter, vandalism and graffiti have all hugely increased. The government cannot do everything and I am very aware that some of the people who complain are often the parents of the kids who are doing it and they have no idea. Having said that the government cannot do everything, what is the government doing?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There are preventative measures like crime reduction partnerships, CCTV, better lighting in places, sanctions. Writing graffiti is a criminal damage offence. The maximum sentence for criminal damage is ten years. It is enforcing the criminal law where appropriate. It has ultimately to boil down to a coordinated approach in dealing with the preservation of the public space and that critically involves engagement with the police and the other partners involved in crime reduction.
116. That is looking at the short and medium term. I think the list you gave was very good but what cross-department coordination is in place to promote the good citizenship that would help us see a reduction in these crimes in 5, 10 or 15 years' time?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Do you mean in terms of removing the cause of crime, of diverting these people who do it into other activity?
117. Instilling in a new generation that the public realm is not a blank canvas for them to destroy as entertainment any day of the week.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Children and Young Persons Unit is trying to work right across government in seeking to instil diversionary activities. In the national curriculum, citizenship now plays a much stronger part than it did. Neighbourhood wardens in particular places are intimately engaged in providing activities for precisely the gangs of youths that you describe as being intimidating and turners off of people going into public parks. It is a whole range of things.
118. The gangs are not responsible for the litter. What about plastic bags? Do you share your ministerial colleagues' concern that we should have a tax on plastic bags?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I did not know that any of my colleagues had taken that view.
119. They have managed to make some progress in Ireland, I understand, with a tax on plastic bags. Are you sympathetic to that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I will have to think about it. It is not something I have given much thought to.