TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
Andrew Bennett, in the Chair
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, a Member of the House of Lords, Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, MS SALLY KEEBLE, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, MS JOYCE BRIDGES, Director Urban Policy Unit, and MR PETER MATTHEW, Urban Policy Unit, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, examined.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sally Keeble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for housing, planning and regeneration, who also chaired the Urban Green Spaces Task Force; Joyce Bridges, who is the Director of the Urban Policy Unit; and Peter Matthew, who is also of the Urban Policy Unit and head of the secretariat that supported the Urban Green Spaces Task Force.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I initially said yes; I then thought about it in the next 25 seconds and said I would need to take advice; I then took advice and what I have been told is that the Cross Cutting Reviews are not being disclosed to select committees - there is a whole range of them going on - because they are, in effect, advice and discussion during the process of the Spending Review. If I had given it you then I would have been breaking with what the pattern across government was in relation to cross cutters. I am sorry about that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am telling everybody, but in terms of the Cross Cutting Reviews, they are not being disclosed to select committees while the process of formulating cross cutting is going on.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A document will be published. There have been two reports already in relation to the Spending Review. What is published at the end of the Spending Review I am not quite sure what form it will be in; but subsequent in September, as indicated, or in the autumn, there will be a publication about the action plan which will also come out of the cross cutter.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you very much for the opportunity to take part in this session on the Green Spaces Task Force and Public Space Cross Cutting Review. The work of the Task Force and the Cross Cutting Review both reflect the importance that the Government attaches to high quality public and open spaces. Survey evidence shows that the condition of people's neighbourhoods and local environment is a major local priority. Our streets and public spaces are something that we all experience everyday - on our way to work, school, shops, or for recreation and fun. If it is dirty, or if it feels unsafe, then people's quality of life is severely affected. But our public space agenda is not just about improving the local environment - there is an increasing appreciation that the quality of the public space has a much wider influence on issues at the macro level. There is a strong economic case for ensuring that attention is paid to the quality of public space locally - nobody wants to work or visit the shops in dirty, neglected areas and, consequently, few businesses, whether large or small, will want to invest in areas where the quality of public space has been allowed to deteriorate. This also contributes to people's decisions about where they live and whether to stay in urban areas. But despite the social and economic importance of high quality public space, other evidence indicates an overall decline in the quality of much of public space. The work of the Cross Cutting Review and Urban Green Spaces Task Force has identified a number of reasons as to why this is the case: the need for political leadership and priority for these issues centrally and locally; insufficient data, measures and targets on the quality of public space; diverse and fragmented responsibilities; insufficient and fragmented resources; and complex and unclear powers and legislation. It is now our job in central Government to drive forward the public space agenda, giving it the high level political leadership it needs, and developing a framework to support those organisations (chiefly local authorities) that manage the public space. Government is already doing a lot in this area - such as the Street Crime Initiative, Home Zones, Neighbourhood Wardens - and this needs to be drawn more closely together. This is one of the things that the Cross Cutting Review and the Task Force has looked to achieve. As you will have seen, the Urban Green Spaces Task Force Report makes a number of recommendations, which we are looking at closely. We will publish our formal response to that in the summer. Coming out of the Cross Cutting Review, we have already embarked on a review of the responsibilities and powers of local authorities to deal with public space nuisance. I expect a consultation paper on that review to be published in the autumn. I have also asked for a full report on our public space strategy also to be published in the autumn - building on the work already done by the Cross Cutting Review and the Task Force. This work continues to be a Cross Cutting exercise. Officials from a number of departments will be working up the specific recommendations for the report. For example, DEFRA officials are already working on a review of legislation. Although I cannot, at this point, say a great deal about the specific recommendations coming out of the Cross Cutting Review, I think there is an increasingly high priority to this issue in terms of our commitment to improve the quality of our public spaces, and I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss them today.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The main issue that the Cross Cutting Review is identifying is: what is the strategy which is required to improve the quality of public space. By "public space" it means streets, parks, rights of way, all areas, as it were, open to the public whether privately owned or in the hands of central or local government which form part of the local environment. The issues it is looking at are issues like: how do you provide the necessary political leadership at central and local government to raise the issue up the agenda? How do you bring together what are currently fragmented funding streams? How do you identify what is a good and what is a bad authority or body in relation to providing public space, both streets and parks? Also, what incentives you need to provide to increase performance. Those are the sorts of issues it is looking at - all with a view to increasing the quality of the public round.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Minister responsible for the Cross Cutting Review is myself. A team based in the Treasury reports to me in relation to the Cross Cutting Review. There is an inter-departmental group of officials who support the work. Those officials come from the relevant departments; and the main relevant departments in terms of responsibility are DTLR, DEFRA and the Home Office.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One of the purposes of the Cross Cutting Review is to try to join up all of the strands within central government (though not only central Government) that impact on the quality of public space, including green spaces. The Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and, obviously, local government have both got significant policy responsibilities in that respect.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In terms of public safety, there are two separate issues. One of the reasons why some public spaces, whether it be streets or whether it be parks, are less used than they should be is because of people's fear of crime and fear of anti-social behaviour. There needs to be a coordinated response to try to reduce that aspect of the unsatisfactory nature of some public spaces and public streets. That requires coordinated activity between the Home Office, DTLR, local authorities and the police. Three particular things that are currently being done that are relevant to that are: first of all, neighbourhood wardens, which have a significant role to play in many places, and they are expanding throughout the country at the moment; secondly, the Community Safety Initiative which is being run from the Home Office, which seeks to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour; and, thirdly, issues around lighting, CCTV and other things that make people feel safe. Separately from that community safety issue there is the issue about danger to pedestrians from traffic, child pedestrian deaths, and that also is an issue that significantly impacts on the quality particularly of streets. Those two strands are being looked at.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The work that is being done in the Cross Cutting Review has focussed much more on anti-social behaviour. It knows what is going on in relation to the Home Office's Street Crime Initiative, although it is not restricted to the Home Office. The two strands have been dealt with separately, but they obviously feed into each other to some extent. It would be wrong to say that the Street Crime Initiative has informed a significant part of the Cross Cutting Review; but obviously what we learn from that will play a significant part in the outcome.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, we have not looked in detail at how the courts deal with anti-social behaviour. We have looked at issues about neighbourhood wardens, about policing, about making sure that fragmented responsibilities get joined up; but we have not considered the precise functioning of the criminal justice system. There have got to be limits to make the process manageable.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You are absolutely right to say that a small number of criminals in an area can have a devastating effect on a public space; but the criminal justice system has been looked at in other parts of the government and it is right, I think, that they are absolutely focussing on the issue about how you deal quickly with those sorts of persistent offender. We think it is right that they should deal with that work. You are absolutely right to say it can have a major effect on the public realm, but I do not think there is any problem about it being dealt with separately.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Fragmented responsibilities, for example, in relation to a city centre or a park, you could have the local authority responsible for the maintenance of the park or bits of the city centre, and the police responsible for dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour, and they do not adequately join up in the way they deal with those issues. You might have some bits of the city centre in private hands, other bits in local authority hands, and those two bits not joining up. Or you might have some parts of the park in the hands of educational establishments, some in the hands of a local authority, the police being responsible for ensuring there is not crime or anti-social behaviour there and, again, they do not join up.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, we need to streamline the powers that people have, so that there is clarity about who is actually responsible and what powers they have. That has been dealt with by the legislative review that was announced a week or so ago that is going on under the auspices of DEFRA. Secondly, as the Green Spaces Best Places document suggests, one has to promote partnerships; one has to bring the people who do have responsibility together. That will become easier if each party involved knows who is legally responsible and what their actual powers are.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because the powers issue we thought would focus in part, though not wholly, on issues like street cleanliness, litter, dog fouling, bylaws in relation to cleanliness, environmental cleanliness, and those were issues that DEFRA had significant responsibility for. It is not exclusively DEFRA because there are quite a number of Home Office regulations and there are some DTLR regulations as well; but this is a Cross Cutting Review, somebody has got to drive it forward and, in the context of the Cross Cutting Review, DEFRA looked the most suitable and were keen to do it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, we are. As I said in answer to Chris' question, one of the issues that makes parks/streets unuseable, unattractive places is the level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To free up those places for people we need to promote a sense that the streets are safer, the parks are safer, and they are more inclined to go. Yes, we are concerned about it. Yes, the Home Office and the police input in relation to this is absolutely vital to make it a success; but they are other ways - neighbourhood wardens etc - which play a part in this.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is central government responsibility. The Home Office is responsible for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, but my Department is responsible for local government. My Department is responsible for the urban policies set out in the Urban White Paper; and one of the critical issues in the Urban White Paper, which we are following through in the Cross Cutting Review, is to make the public realm desirable and places that people want to go to. We have got a responsibility as well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think very, very much so. We have produced some guidance in relation to this to design out crime; but practical engagement between the local planning authority and the police would make a real difference.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in principle the police are willing to address the issue of how you try to design out or reduce the prospect of crime. Whenever one goes to places where crime is prevalent in a particular geographical location and the police are there, they are very good at identifying what actually promotes crime - like dark alleyways, like places where you get away easily. I think they would be very keen to be engaged. It is an important issue, because the design of public spaces is just as important as how you manage them.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there is a real problem about how you measure success. One of the things that the Cross Cutting Review focusses on is what measures of success are there? Are there adequate measures of success? If there are not, how do you create them? Without those measures of success people will not be able to see what their local authority are doing. Equally, if one of the intentions is to provide incentives to people - local authorities to improve public space - you will not know to whom to provide rewards unless you know who is doing what.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In some places they have been used effectively. If one looks, for example, at Manchester they have used Anti-Social Behaviour Orders effectively. They have got procedures in place whereby they can get them, and get them quickly. Good practice in some local authorities can be replicated. We recognise that there are some procedural difficulties, and the Home Office have made announcements about how they will streamline the process of making it easier.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think every single -----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am told the total number of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which have been granted is 518. I think what we need to do is spread best practice so people know how it can be done; and also to look to see where the procedural ditches are, which is what the Home Office have done, and then introduce changes to make it easier.
(Ms Keeble) We have looked at that. One of the things we did was to do some research amongst young people, looking at the 13-18 year old age range. We looked at the type of activities they required. One of the recommendations contained in the report and the supporting documents is about the need to make sure that parks and green spaces cater for children and young people - recognising that older children have got very different needs from the tiny tots and you have to make proper provision for them. That is something we have recognised.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have heard of the buzz word "liveability" a well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have been responsible from time to time of passing it on, but I certainly did not invent it. I think it is trying to convey the idea that the place in which you live, when you step outside your front door, is somewhere where you actually want to be. It is somewhere which is liveable; and somewhere where you are comfortable. It goes back to the question you asked a few moments ago: are there sufficient targets, for example, about litter, about graffiti, about abandoned cars, about levels of anti-social behaviour and about usability of public parks? There most certainly are not at the moment. The only real guide and best value indicators that there are at the moment is a three-yearly customer satisfaction survey about green spaces in the area. We do not think that is enough. One of the things that the Cross Cutting Review has been focussing on particularly is how do you develop measures, targets, indications to the people both locally and at the central government level, who is doing well and who is doing badly. Without those measures, as I say, you will not know who to reward, and you will not be able to identify who is doing badly in relation to the issue.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One way of looking at it is to have a range of indicators like customer satisfaction with green spaces, amount of use of green spaces, levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, quantities of litter, quantity of complaints about litter. I think the more one looks at it the more one sees you have to have a range of indicators producing a result at the end.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The person almost primarily responsible would be the local authority in most cases.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The only best value performance indicator we have got is the customer satisfaction survey. Some best value indicators have been dropped but I do not think they related to green space, but I may be wrong about this.
(Ms Bridges) There needs to be a rationalisation of best value indicators. The problem is, there is no single best value performance indicator covering performance on public spaces or green spaces. What we had was a rather disparate group of best value indicators.
(Ms Bridges) We are not sure.
(Ms Keeble) On the green spaces indicator, there was a lot of discussion in the Task Force about those, and about the value and use of them. We had looked at having a couple based on customer satisfaction. In the end we decided to go for locally-determined indicators, which would be about the usage level and also local satisfaction with the spaces. That is what the Task Force recommended rather than having single national indicators.
(Ms Bridges) We are currently finalising a programme for the Urban Summit, but there will be a series of Cross Cutting theme sessions, probably about 20 sessions, one of which will be about green spaces in the city and all the issues around the green spaces. There will certainly be another session on the whole public space agenda, and probably one on urban design as well. The agenda will be covered both in individual sessions, but also with the threads running through quite a lot of the discussions. We plan to publish the programme next month.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is an incredibly important issue. It very much contributes to the quality of space. It is something which has got to be taken up in transport planning, and is being taken up in transport planning, but it connects in with the public space agenda.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It means: do we take seriously the fact that people have to find it easier to walk on the streets? Answer: yes, we do. Is that the position now? No, it is not. Therefore, we need to raise that issue up. It cannot be done just by the public space agenda alone; it also has to be reflected in transport planning in the long term.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot give you a four-point plan in relation to it, but the importance of it is recognised and it has got to play a part in relation to the public space agenda overall.
(Ms Keeble) It is actually one of my responsibilities.
(Ms Keeble) I know. Under the typology of green spaces, which is what the select committee asked about last time, we have recognised the importance of linear parks, canal walkways and things like that. That obviously helps if you are putting together a strategy to help and encourage people to walk. Amongst the issues the Department is doing to promote walking has been issues like supporting moves to get children walking to school; safety with their friends; walking and cycling to work. There is a range of measures and packs of information we have done on that as well. We are also promoting tourism without traffic, which looks at environmentally friendly ways to have holidays which encourages walking as well as a leisure activity. We are doing quite a lot of work. Also targets which are promoted through the local transport plans.
(Ms Keeble) Obviously it is down to local authorities to follow through on their transport plans. For example, the work on walking to work and walking to schools is also down through employer groups, and also through education authorities. You are going to get local authorities which take particular decisions for particular reasons, and that might be related to congestion. They might also have a separate strategy for walking. We have got measures in place to encourage walking in a whole range of different settings.
(Ms Keeble) If you look at town centre design, I think increasingly that is not becoming the case. That is really Charlie's patch more than mine. If you actually look at town centre design, if you look at places like Newcastle, which is a particularly good example, and Birmingham, they are in fact going to great lengths to give pedestrians priority in the town centre areas. Some of them are doing very innovative work.
(Ms Keeble) If you also look at some of the measures coming out of this Department, they actually encourage much more constructive use of streets and pavements. For example, if you look at the Home Zones Initiative which actually redesigns residential areas to make sure, yes, people can park outside their front door, which is what people want, but also they are designed in such a way that the public can also use those spaces much more safely, and we do not get the cars dominating the public areas and they can be properly used by members of the public, pedestrians and children wanting to play and the rest of it.
(Ms Keeble) We do an analysis obviously of the annual returns on the Local Transport Plans and that is something I have been particularly pushing, and we look at how they are meeting a whole range of targets. I do not think we do a breakdown of the spend in precisely the way that you are suggesting. It is certainly something we could go back and look at. I would be very happy to do that. At the moment, because the whole Local Transport Plan process is quite new, the last annual returns we had were the first and they tended just to set a base line, rather than being very helpful in terms of analytical data. We are doing work to improve that and hope in the coming years we will be able to extract much more comparative information out of that. I will certainly take that one back.
(Ms Keeble) It would not surprise me; it would give me a certain amount of concern. I will certainly go back and have a look. We have only had one round of annual returns back on the Local Transport Plan; we are due for the next one in July. I will take that back and see if we can get some kind of analysis that will pick up on the issues you have identified. If you look at the work that is being done on road safety, on pedestrian access and on Home Zones in particular, I think we are starting to get a different look at the way in which roads and pavements are used.
(Ms Keeble) No. I can go and check again and see if we have got that information through the Local Transport Plans, but I doubt it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a question that they raise at the moment. It is something in the context of raising public realm up the agenda that we need to consider in the context of the Cross Cutting Review and the policy conclusions that come out of that. It is part of a process of focussing local authorities and other players as well on the issue.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was not aware of that. Presumably it depends on the particular street. We will certainly have a look at that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I thought you were saying it blocks the street if there is parking on both sides?
Christine Russell: No, what I am saying is, at the moment there is parking on both sides and, therefore, vehicles have to travel at quite a low speed to go between vehicles; but when a residents' parking scheme goes in, because of the regulations the width of the parking boxes has to be so wide that you can only have the scheme on one side of the street, which means you then have a race track on the other side.
Chairman: Perhaps you could look at that for us.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is an institutional obstacle?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In terms of road signs?
(Ms Keeble) There are actually some very tight regulations around signs. We have huge design manuals with all the different types of signs and discussions about the colours of them as well. I have to say that there are probably more representations about people who want to do their own signs than people who are prepared to forego their independence and to stick with the kind of signage and the conformity that the Department encourages. If people have made comments it is interesting and we ought to look at it. I have to say, it runs somewhat against some of the experience in the Department with people wanting very, very specific types of street signage which are just particular to their village or their locality.
(Ms Keeble) There are detailed manuals, and we can make sure the Committee has them. They of mind-boggling length, and they have pictures of all kinds of street signs and all the possibilities. If you have too much different signage it is actually unsafe because the drivers become fixated by it; there are restrictions on what people can do. For example, one of the things people do is write to the Department applying to have their village's slogan on the street sign; and there is a lot of angst when you say, "They're not supposed to be doing this" for just the kinds of reasons you have identified. We can go back and have a look at that. There are strong counter-arguments that come from local interest groups who want their own street signs.
(Ms Keeble) I think there actually would be. We can obviously look, and we would look very carefully, at anything CABE has got to say in terms of the impact that street signs have on the design of roads. I do think it is fair to point out that there is pressure from particular areas that might want particular colours on their street signs or might want particular slogans.
(Ms Keeble) No, it is not. Would it be helpful if we provided to the Committee the guidance and the information on street signs (which is very, very compendious) of some of the things people want to enforce - a particular character of a village, or put up some sort of general slogan, so people do have particular views. We will let you have the documentation and guidance we have and, of course, we will look at what CABE has got to say about the design of street signs.
(Ms Keeble) We have issued some documents, and I will make sure you have them.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There are various things we are doing. There is that; there is lane rental; there is the charging once the agreed timetable is exceeded, and some millions of pounds have been received in terms of over-payments for going over the extended timetable. I do not know what the figures are to suggest what that has done. I can provide the Committee with that. They remain, as you have said, an issue that is constantly raised and constantly irritates people.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They started in April, but I have not got any information.
(Ms Keeble) We have not got the data yet because they have only just now started.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The lane rental proposal is, as you rightly say, only Middlesbrough and Camden at the moment. The issue is, once one sees how it works, one expands that. Also, how one ensures that there is better coordination and that, I assume, means more guidance.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously we have got to learn the lessons from Middlesbrough and Camden. I think the issue is how, and not whether.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a real problem. The problem is about getting the utilities, local authorities and relevant users to actually coordinate they way they do it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is an Act of 1991 that gives power to local authorities to coordinate but it does not actually provide that they can prevent the utilities; because the utilities frequently in emergencies have got to dig up the road.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think the issue is: will the time-tabling, the coordination and the lane rentals, which is what has just started in Camden and Middlesbrough, make a difference?
(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.
(Ms Keeble) I do not know. The local authorities clearly have that to include in their Local Transport Plans.
(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, and it is the same bit of 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 a team with some information about green spaces, particularly the role of green spaces in terms of providing the routes for safe walking. The earlier material we generated was passed on to you.
(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.
(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.
(Ms Bridges) I am pretty certain they will be consulted.
(Ms Bridges) I do not think they have.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That came out of my mouth without reference to a note!
Chairman: It is going that badly!
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A formulaic approach for the amount of money given in the EPCS, but not ring fencing it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not sure about the specific idea that you have suggested.
(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.
(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?
(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.
(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.
(Ms Keeble) That we have to look at and will put in the response in July.
(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.
(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 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.
(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.
(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.
(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, Site Savers and Groundwork and the Lottery, there is reason to think it is within reach.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Over the last three years.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is quite a lot of money.
(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.
(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 either 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.
(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.
(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?
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are discussing it in the BIDs south of the river.
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The intention is to legislate in the Local Government Bill, yes.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is why the tariff is so good because the tariff will permit the local authority to identify planning gain -- for example, right in the centre of a successful city -- which can then be used for deprived areas in a different part of the city, which cannot happen at the moment.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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 ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In the first instance, they would be voluntary, yes.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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?
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I did not know that any of my colleagues had taken that view.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I will have to think about it. It is not something I have given much thought to.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have a note that says, "Michael Meacher in yesterday's Guardian" so I assume that is a reference to litter and plastic bags.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Keep Britain Tidy campaign has had quite an important role to play ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) ---- in helping us draw up the cross-cutting review. One of the things that is really important is to measure how successful you are being in relation to keeping streets tidy. It is implicit in the whole of the questioning. How do you get money to do the things that we want to be done like keeping parks and streets clean? You only get money for those things if you have a means of measuring how well it is going on. One of the things the cross-cutting review is focusing on is how do we measure who is doing well; how do we get money to those places that are not doing well but have a good way of making it better and how do we reward people who are doing well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Photographs that the Department have kept from me so far.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I shall look at those photographs. In the regeneration field, in Barton Hill, which is a New Deal for Communities area, they have changed the arrangements for cleaning the neighbourhood. Instead of there being 88 separate employees of the out-sourced company that does maintenance and cleaning for Bristol, a team of seven or eight people are dedicated full time to Barton Hill. The consequence of that in terms of cleanliness, litter and rubbish collection has been to transform Barton Hill from the area which was the worst one in terms of complaints to the area which has the fewest complaints. The management of the issue, how it is addressed, identifying who has been successful and who has not, targeting money in the right place are the sorts of things that we need to do. Those are precisely the issues that the cross-cutting review is looking at.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The cross-cutting review exemplifies the fact that, as a matter of cross-government, we recognise that there needs to be an interdepartmental approach to this. The cross cutting arrangements which involved in effect setting up a group of ministers supported by interdepartmental officials have to continue beyond the process of the spending review itself. The interdepartmental grouping will continue. The group of ministers will continue. As I said in my opening remarks, we will publish an action plan in the autumn about what we are going to do because we accept the proposition that coordination needs to be greatly improved because it is a cross-government issue.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, I do.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, and I think it is vital that it does. You cannot address the issue of the public realm without including, for example, the DCMS's responsibilities, DTLR's responsibilities and DEFRA's as well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a matter for decisions to be made about how it is done but ultimately there will need to be a group of ministers who bring it together.
(Ms Keeble) This report is just about green spaces so it would not deal with the street works issues. The overcharging policies and street works powers that are coming in in terms of lane rentals deal not just with the timetabling for the work being done but also with the quality of the restoration which is particularly important when you are looking at some of these very high quality, expensive paving schemes that some people are putting into their public spaces.
(Ms Keeble) There was quite a lot of that dealt with previously about the lane rentals and the fact that those were just starting and the need to look at those. We have not yet had the first report on the monitoring of the section 74 powers which are for overstaying but there is a real issue about the quality of the restoration and that is very specific in the lane rentals regulations that were debated last year, which say that the work is only finished not just once the hole is filled in but once the restitution is to standard and it is much more prescriptive about insisting on he quality, which is obviously very important.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have heard the same, but I cannot give the detail. Could I get back to you in relation to that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We need to look at that. What is emerging is that you need a basket of indicators that produces one conclusion at the end of it, because there are so many aspects to it like pedestrian safety, cleanliness, litter, graffiti, safety on the streets etc; so a basket of indicators producing a score at the end of it is the sort of way the thinking is going at the moment.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have some data and that appeared in the first cross-cutting review report. To describe it as proof would be quite difficult because the causal connection between health and the existence of a park are quite difficult. We accept the basic proposition that good public realm encourages good health, increases economic activity and reduces crime.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A steering group has been set up with a view to considering what steps should be taken in relation to the creation of such an agency.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are going to respond to the green space task force in July and we will indicate in our response our view in relation to the agency.
(Ms Keeble) There is going to be a meeting of the Committee before the end of June. That follows on exactly what the task force suggested. In terms of the government's response, we will have the benefit of that to look at but a decision on that has to wait for the government response in July.
(Ms Keeble) Yes. It would leave me in a difficult position, I agree.
(Ms Keeble) The recommendation of setting up the Committee is being carried forward in record speed and there are very powerful arguments for the agency. However, the task force was not able in the time it had to draw up the exact specifications for an agency.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Do you mean the cross-cutting review?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are going to publish it in the autumn.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think we will publish it as a strategy.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We had this discussion before, did we not, on the planning? This will be the government's public realm strategy. It will set out the policies that the government intend to adopt in relation to promoting good public space. What is the difference between publishing your strategy in a White Paper and publishing your strategy as a strategy? I am unable to assist you in relation to the distinction but the critical thing is that we are going to produce a strategy.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence?