Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
320. Can I ask you about those unsuccessful
applicants. Could you perhaps share with us your thoughts on whether
or not there were any common weaknesses in the applications that
you actually turned down, and whether that gives a knock-on effect
to the implications for this PPG17 and the current system in general?
Have you identified, through the weaker applicants, whether there
(Ms McRobie) I think we understood or found out quite
quickly. The Urban Parks Programme was launched in 1996 and we
had an immediate swell of applications. About 40 per cent of those
were rejected. What immediately we started to do was to look at
ways of addressing that. As I have said, we started with a plan-led
process providing more support and capacity building with applicants;
introducing our two-stage process, which means local authorities
can come in and outline and then get further development and hand-holding
to get the full grant. In the last 18 months, of the 60 applications
we have received, we have only rejected three of them. With those
three we write letters and encourage them with more consideration
and background research, and they are welcome to come back and
try again. There again, what we have learnt are the areas where
local authorities struggle, and where we can help them and support
them through the process. We do see ourselves very much as helping
and supporting them through the process.
321. What are those particular areas?
(Ms McRobie) The first one would be resources. A fairly
obvious one is, have they got partnership funding? More particularly,
have they got the staff resources to even put a good application
together? Have the staff got the skills? Is there a champion;
is it a real person behind the organisation actually leading them
and driving them through? There is a whole resource implication
in local authorities in even making the applications. Perhaps
an area where PPG17 might be able to help us most is in understanding,
and that goes back to what I said earlier on. Currently there
is a lack of knowledge of basic structure and quantity of parks.
There is lack of knowledge of how the community uses those parks.
There is a lack of understanding on how parks deliver to quality
of life. There is also still a certain amount of lack of understanding
of what we can contribute to. We can fund new facilities where
they build on historical and conservation work and look holistically
at the whole park and address the needs of communitiesnot
just conservation work. Sometimes we are thought to be very conservation-driven.
I think that whole area of understanding and knowledge in PPG
17, looking strategically at what parks they have will help us
and will help them prioritise and identify the work that needs
to be done. The third area is about attitude. I think there is
a lack of blue skies vision. I see it all the time. I go out to
local authoritiestheir applications tend to be worthy but
dull. As I tell them, why not think more innovatively; think of
the opportunities that this funding and your parks can bring to
you. Obviously that is a difficult thing for a PPG to do, but
if you raise the value of the understanding of parks then, hopefully,
some of this visioning will take place.
Mrs Dunwoody: Vision is not often found in planning
documents. I am glad to hear you want it!
322. PPG17 says: "Where there is a particular
need ... authorities should seek to create new or enhance existing
areas of recreational open space (including playing fields) through
the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities initiative. This
is provided as part of the New Opportunities Fund". Do you
think the New Opportunities Fund is fulfilling that role? Can
you give the Committee any idea as to how much money has been
spent on the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities initiative,
and how much of that has actually gone into open spaces?
(Mr Hill) First of all, I think the reference in PPG17
to the New Opportunities Fund is helpful to people looking at
that guidance. The Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities programme
in general is £125 million UK-wide. We are starting to deliver
on funding on that programme. At the moment we have spent around
£6 million of that funding as the award partners have started
to roll out the schemes. To put that into context slightly: we
decided not to run this as one single national open grant scheme;
we decided to bring through a number of award partners, and those
award partners actually deliver either grant schemes or umbrella
schemes. The reason we did that was, we were very conscious that
some of the communities we wanted to target were the communities
that were precisely those unlikely to be successful in the open
grant scheme; and we wanted to put in an intermediate layer to
provide development or to help communities plan projects and to
help them deliver projects. Those award partners will help communities
bring those projects forward to us.
323. Just looking at the figures nowhow
much has been spent so far on green open spaces?
(Mr Hill) The figure I use for England so far is around
£6 million across the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities
programme, and that would be for projects in terms of playing
fields, children's play and access to green space; and the rest
of the funding will roll out over the next two to three years.
324. Do you have any ideas of how much that
(Mr Hill) The total spend at the end of the programme
in England will be around £97 million out of the £125
325. You are not exactly rushing, are you?
(Mr Hill) We have put in place a system of award partners
and that has taken some time to put together. I think the benefits
of that, in terms of the way communities will be able to engage
in the programme, will outweigh the amount of time it has taken
us to put that into the staging.
326. Given the specific reference in PPG17 to
the fund, is it not rather strange that you did not actually take
part in the consultation exercise organised by the Department
nor to submit memoranda to this Committee?
(Mr Hill) I think our general position on PPG17 is
similar to that my colleague from the Heritage Lottery Fund has
set out, in terms of us wanting it to be helpful in providing
guidance across the range of things we didplaying finds,
open space, children's play and supporting local authorities in
thinking strategically about that process. We did not comment
directly on PPG 17 although a number of the award partners that
we have appointed to run the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities
SchemeEnglish Nature, the Countryside Agency, Sport Englanddid
feed into that process and of course we are happy to give evidence
327. An awful lot of money is being allocated
to this task and very little of it has actually been committed.
Are you satisfied that you are doing the job as intended? Supplementing
that, you have clearly been given a lot of direction by the Secretary
of State in terms of policy and things like that from time to
time; remembering you are amongst friends here, upon whom would
you blame the delay?
(Mr Hill) In answer to the first one, £125 million
UK-wide is clearly a very significant sum and set against the
range of priorities that we have for the programmeplaying
fields, children's play and access to open space, indeed, a need
identified by this Committee and othersclearly it is important
that that money is spent wisely, which is why I do think that
the system we have adopted of using award partners (the first
time that has been done for a Lottery Scheme) will lever in that
expertise to help communities at a local level, and I think we
will get better value for money at the end of the scheme than
if we had rushed very quickly into a large-scale open grant scheme.
328. The delay is partly due to a desire on
your part to get true value for money out of the scheme?
(Mr Hill) I would not accept that there has been a
delay. Setting up the award partner process has taken us some
time. The scheme could have been run quicker if we had opened
it as an open grant scheme with £125 million availale for
anybody to bid for the money, ut what would have happened in that
case is the money would have gone to the usual suspects, ie, the
areas that have better capacity in terms of putting in bids, the
programme would have been considerably over-subscribed, and there
would have been a large sector of disappointed applicants. I think
the award partner process where communities are helped to bring
together plans and run their projects will bring us better value
for money and more sustainable projects in the long term.
329. If you look at the way in which the funds
are diminishing, for example, the Transforming Communities Programme,
where it is down to £50 million, it would seem to me there
is a difficulty getting the money committed in the appropriate
(Mr Hill) The Transforming Communities programme is
a separate programme for which we got directions in the third
round. Clearly there is a range of programmes under those sets
of directions of £1.5 billion but £159 million of that
in total falls under the heading of "Transforming Communities";
a smaller part, around £50 million, is for improving quality
of life of local communities.
(Mr Hill) We finished consulting on that scheme in
September and would hope to launch it fairly early in the new
331. I wanted to ask whether you think that
we should blame the Secretary of State for the spending programme
and in particular for the fact that only £3.8 million has
been spent to date on the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities
(Mr Hill) No, I think what I said before is probably
true in fact, that the £125 million that we were given was
a significant amount of money, but there were a number of priorities
identified by government for us to deliver on thatplaying
fields, children's play, access to open space and sustainable
communities. Clearly we had to work quite hard in terms of prioritising
and narrowing that down through open consultation. The decision
to deliver the scheme using reward partners was a decision made
by the fund after that consultation, and that process has taken
some time to put in place so that the award partners can deliver
the schemes. As I said, I think the approach has a lot of advantages
but it does mean that it is not delivered as quickly as an open
grant scheme opened on day one. That is a decision that we made
following consultation with government departments and others
and was not one made by the Secretary of State.
332. Are you not concerned that playing field
strategies currently represent a partial solution to strategic
thinking about open space, and yet more bias towards sport as
opposed to other usage of open space, and that what we really
need is comprehensive open space strategies?
(Mr Hill) I think the interest for us in this is that
we are trying, under the Green Spaces Programme and soon under
the Transforming Communities programme, to fund a fairly wide
range of activities under the green spaces heading, including
delivery through Sport England of playing fields. I think the
proposal under that programme of developing strategies for playing
fields and then funding new and improved playing fields (of the
order of 80 new playing fields and 100 improvements) is a sensible
strategic approach to that part of open space. Clearly the wider
point, that there are lots of ways in which people will wish to
use open space and open space of different kinds, is well made.
333. So the more money that is spent on preparing
playing field strategies the less there will be available for
delivering improvements on the ground. What proportion of the
Green Spaces Sustainable Communities and Transforming Communities
funding do you anticipate will be spent on the provision of better
urban green space?
(Mr Hill) If the question is how much of the £97
million for England, for example, will go to urban green spacesand
I take urban green space to include playing fields, space for
children's playI think the vast majority of the £97
million will go to those sort of projects, although clearly they
will not all be in urban locations. It is a programme that covers
urban and rural areas, particularly the Countryside Agency Project
for doorstep greens which will obviously provide open space in
rural areas. I do not think that a significant amount of that
money will disappear, as it were, towards the development of strategies,
although clearly there is an element of strategy under the playing
334. You think it is the right proportion?
(Mr Hill) I think it will be a small proportion in
the context of that particular part of the programme and I think
that is a sensible thing to do.
335. The existing PPG makes it clear how you
can get rid of playing fields with development, under fairly strict
rules, and it does not make it easy. The new PPG will not have
those strict rules in it so, presumably, the idea is to get rid
of existing playing fields and then you will come up with the
money for new ones. Is that it?
(Mr Hill) On the playing fields, what we are doing
under the Green Spaces programme is we are working very closely
with Sport England on the delivery of that. Clearly they have
a key strategic role in the provision of playing fields and maintenance
of existing playing fields, and the award partnership programme
is very much based on using the expertise of organisations in
their field to ensure that precisely that sort of thing does not
336. Should the proposed new PPG make it much
clearer that you cannot do that, as the old one did?
(Mr Hill) I think my understanding of the PPG, which
may well be imperfect, is that the intention is very much to preserve
green and open spaces of whatever sort. Certainly I think we would
Chairman: Can both of you perhaps address yourselves
to a slight problem that I have. I represent Denton & Reddish
and, as far as Lottery money expenditure is concerned, it is bottom
of the league table and, as far as I know, neither of you have
managed to come up with any money for Denton & Reddish. It
has a substantial number of small parks and green spaces. What
is it doing wrong?
Mrs Dunwoody: Why did you not do your homework
before you came, not afterwards!
Chairman: I will be happy to receive a note
on that point.
337. And a cheque!
(Mr Hill) We have funded a couple of things in Denton
& Reddish in the past and we will be able to send you details
Chairman: Thank you very much.
338. If you added in your note not just what
you have and have not done in Denton & Reddish (which may
determine your future in some very interesting ways) one or two
simple points, picking up exactly what the Chairman has said,
saying what they have as a local authority done wrong, that would
be useful. What concerns me, and I have listened to you very carefully,
is that you have set out the machinery, the base work, how you
decide you want to do it, where the strategy ought to lie, but
I get a terrible feeling ofI would not want to say inertia,
that is too cruela leisurely advance. Children have a nasty
habit of growing up quite quickly so there are two or three generations
of children in Denton & Reddish who do not seem to be doing
terribly well out of it.
(Ms McRobie) I would ask if they have made an application
under the Parks Programme and, if not, why not? Perhaps that is
339. I do not want to go too far into it but
in Denton & Reddish we have very little parks, very nicely
set out Victorian parks, but most of the money you have spent
so far is on the big parks and they tend not to be, sadly, in
Denton & Reddish.
(Ms McRobie) They do not compete one against the other.
We are always looking to spread our funding widely into what you
obviously describe as a cold spot. Size has nothing to do with
it in terms of application and we look at both small parks and
large parks equally and have funded such across the UK.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Can we have the
next witness please?
Mrs Dunwoody: Do not forget Queen's Park in