Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
140. That is a very revolutionary idea. You
will probably be asked to leave your job.
(Mr Elliot) I think you have to accommodate the desires
of children to play in the street, in parks, but what we do have
a duty to do is to provide spaces that children can say, "Yes,
that is mine. It belongs to me."
(Mr Meigh) We have formal play areas for children,
informal areas and then teenager areas. With regard to the formal
playgrounds we have audited what we have across the city, both
City Council provided and non-council provided, but a number of
trusts, parish councils, town councils have provided facilities.
We do quite well nationally on the performance indicators in terms
of number of playgrounds but we are quite poor in their quality
against the NPFA standards. We have recently done the best value
audit review and members have tried to put this into an improvement
programme. That is one side. Whether I get the resources or not
I do not know yet. We are now bidding on the council capital programme
round. We have always suffered from being a discretionary service.
That is something I would challenge as to whether we could increase
the standard dramatically. As to informal play for children, younger
teenagers, we have had problems in defining what an area is for.
We have problems with kickabouts. I am sure your constituents
have raised it before. People perceive an area of open space to
be one thing and young people perceive it as another thing. That
is something we are trying to work out with the communities, to
get that land designated by the local community as to what it
is for. Older teenagers have been missed by York, to be fair.
We are trying to respond to the craze of skateboarding of late
but it is not something that has been addressed systematically.
141. Can I address my first question to the
Greater London Authority? The draft provision of PPG17 quite rightly
stresses the importance of ensuring that open spaces are of high
quality. Can you tell us how the GLA is attempting to improve
the quality of existing and new open spaces?
(Ms Hennessey) In the London context it is a real
challenge and we have a massive uneven distribution of open space
across London with areas like Richmond where 38 per cent of the
borough is covered by open space whereas in Kensington and Chelsea
we barely scrape three per cent. Added to that we have huge disparities
in terms of the quality of provision across London. The most important
thing for us is that we are realistic about what we can achieve.
We have to work within the finite capacity of open space that
we have at the moment. There are going to be few opportunities
for creating large new open spaces within London. It is true to
say that the majority of opportunities are going to come through
new development opportunities and to that end the use of Section
106 agreements to secure new open space is going to be very important.
The types of sources of open space that we have been thinking
about, and we have again to think quite creatively here, are things
like private sports grounds, which are often lost to development
although they offer a very valuable opportunity to create new
public spaces. We have former highways and rail lands, utilities
lands which in London has provided a very important source of
open space. For example, we have got a new wetland area in Barnes
which was formerly an area of reservoirs. We have gravel and landfill
sites as well. On the use of Section 106 agreements, we are very
interested in exploring the potential for commuted payments from
developments, recognising that not all buildings and sites in
London will offer the opportunity to create new open spaces, but
that it may be possible to secure a payment which could be put
into a pot and used to either create new open spaces or improve
existing open spaces. Aside from creating new open spaces there
is a lot of work to be done in improving our existing open spaces.
We have neglect manifest in all sorts of ways: litter, graffiti,
closure of public facilities, and we look to some of the Lottery
funding sources that are available to us at the moment to improve
our open spaces, but also again we are interested in exploring
more funding through Section 106 agreements.
142. But how would you actually physically improve
the quality of existing and new open spaces? We are all well aware
of the problems surrounding the issue but what is the way forward?
(Ms Hennessey) As a strategic authority we have limited
powers to enable us to intervene.
143. What can you do?
(Ms Hennessey) What we can do is provide a very strong
strategic framework for London boroughs to work within and facilitate
the work that they do by pointing to good practice and ensuring
that they are well aware of all the funding opportunities which
are available to them.
144. So having developed the strategy you are
then really relying upon the various boroughs to take it on board?
(Ms Hennessey) We have to because we do not have the
funding resources or the powers given to us to enable us to directly
intervene in the work which is really the responsibility of the
boroughs but, as I say, we can facilitate the work.
145. Why are the boroughs not developing their
(Ms Hennessey) A strategy for recreation enhancement?
(Ms Hennessey) Again it goes back to this issue about
this type of research being very resource intensive. As my colleague
from York has said, the provision of open space is a discretionary
service and so they have been operating in a very under-resourced
environment. I feel that the role of the GLA is to try and enable
boroughs to use their resources in the most effective way.
Sir Paul Beresford
147. Would it be fair to say that most of them
are, whether they call it a strategy or not, looking at their
parks, their playgrounds, their recreation facilities regularly?
(Ms Hennessey) Yes.
148. Just because they do not agree with you
does not mean they are not looking at it.
(Ms Hennessey) It is quite a consensus environment
that we are working in actually. I would not say there is disagreement
on this issue.
149. But there is a huge variation, is there
not, between the quality of parks in some parts of London and
(Ms Hennessey) Absolutely.
150. Can I address this question to Leeds and
York City Councils? To what extent does the Department of York
City Council responsible for grounds maintenance contribute to
the setting and implementation of planning policies relating to
open space and how has their input affected either your planning
policies or the implementation of them?
(Mr Meigh) The fact that I am here is probably a demonstration
that there is good co-operation between the two sections on the
leisure side of things. We are in the middle of the green belt
review. My planning colleague cannot be here today because he
is meeting our councillors to agree a way forward on some of the
new standards, so it is joint working as part of the green belt
review. How it will affect it in the long term I do not know yet.
151. Who will be responsible for monitoring
(Mr Meigh) That will be a joint responsibility.
152. Who would come back to this Committee in,
say two years' time, and give us an answer?
(Mr Meigh) I suspect it will be me.
153. So your department will be responsible
for collating the information?
(Mr Meigh) Yes. We manage and pay for the maintenance
of large areas within York. We have started to produce a strategy.
We have just come out of the best value review which has set up
other objectives for the improvement and management of open space,
so there is a very active interest from the leisure services department
in future provision, quality of what goes on, where it is, etc.
154. So would you be monitoring yourselves?
(Mr Meigh) Yes, and advising members accordingly.
155. Sounds like the ideal arrangement to me.
(Mr Meigh) I report to an executive spokesman for
leisure and heritage who monitors me.
(Mr Elliot) Within Leeds we have established an interdepartmental
working group which we call GIG, Greenspace Implementation Group.
What that does is to bring together representatives of departments
that have an active role in the provision and maintenance of green
space in Leeds. Planning have chaired this group, leisure services
attend. We have representatives of education and community planning
and regeneration. We have two elements. We have main GIG, which
is the strategic approach, and site specific GIG, which is implementation
of green space projects on the ground. What this does is marry
together various sources of funding within the district with implementation
of green space projects. A lot of the funding comes off the back
of Section 106 monies, which is why I was interested in what Clare
was saying because Leeds City Council predominantly uses Section
106 monies for provision of these spaces but also uses it for
enhancement for green space.
156. What I still do not understand is, you
have been talking about wanting to set standards and you are saying
really that you have slightly higher standards than the National
Playing Fields Standards, so you have in the plan a whole lot
of land that is designated.
(Mr Elliot) Yes.
157. But you do not have the money to look after
and make sure that that amount of land is good open space. How
do you marry up those two targets? One is to put it in the plan
and the other is to make sure that you have got the money to make
it any good.
(Mr Elliot) It is a delicate balance between quality
158. Are you telling me that there is sufficient
money to make all the green space that you have got in the existing
plan good green space?
(Mr Elliot) At the moment I would say no. I would
say obviously our resources are limited.
159. Can you justify wanting more space if you
cannot afford to maintain the existing space?
(Mr Elliot) Because within our green space standards
that we have, once the hierarchy or the threshold is reached then
we would look to improve the quality of green spaces and not the
quantity of them and we would look for that off the back of Section