Examination of Witness (Questions 480-499)|
QC AND MS
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
480. Is there not a danger of local authorities
falling back to using national standards, such as the National
Playing Fields Association's Six-Acre Standard?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In certain cases there
are standards set by organisations like the National Playing Fields
that might be appropriate. Sally, in her evidence, indicated that
that particular standard may be a bit mechanistic, but if one
of the complaints about the planning system is that there is just
too much guidance coming, it is causing too many problems and
there is so much to get throughwhich is what, broadly,
both local authorities and other groups are sayingthen
the right thing to do, I think, is to make it simpler and more
comprehensible. That will help rather than hinder.
481. If Section 106 agreements are replaced
with "impact fees" will it not make it more difficult
to tie offsite provision to specific developments?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there was some sort
of "impact fee" arrangement those fees would be set
by the local authority, they would have identified what their
needs in a particular area were and they would then be able to
decide where to spend it. So it would be for them to decide what
the benefits to a particular community were from particular developments.
I do not think it would make it harder to lead to offsite provision,
it would probably make it easier.
482. It is a bit like buying planning permission.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If the position is that
there is a system at the moment whereby you have got to give some
sort of agreement, some benefit, to the community in order to
deal with what the consequences of the development are, far better
that it is absolutely clear what that particular benefit is; everybody
knows what it is, everybody knows what is done with it.
483. So it is not wrong to bribe, it is just
wrong to keep quiet about the size of the bribe.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a bribe; it
is saying "If this development is going to cause further
need for schools, further need for roads, further need for housing,
why do you not make a contribution?"
484. You are using "further need",
are you not? I can understand the link between the development
and something that happens as a consequence of development. What
about saying "Because of the development we would like to
spend the money by upgrading some of the open space within the
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We can do that. What you
do not want, however, is a system where you do not precisely know
what it is that is expected and you do not precisely know once
it is obtained what is done with it. You need to deal with both
the certainty of what is expected and what is done with it. You
also do not want fine distinctions about whether it is a precise
consequence of the development; you want to be able to say "Is
this something that promotes sustainable development in the area?"
485. So you want transparent bribes?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am stepping back from
the word "bribe".
Sir Paul Beresford
486. Purchase price?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. Contribution to the
community in the light of the development.
Mrs Dunwoody: Is that a legal definition?
487. How will the revised PPG 17 ensure that
local authorities can plan for new and enhanced facilities in
their development plans with the confidence that these plans will
be supported and can be supported at public inquiries?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because what it is saying
is that each local authority should do a needs assessment, both
in terms of quantity and quality, of the recreational space that
it needs. Once it has done that needs assessment and made it part
of its development plan that will be a material consideration
in both its planning committee hearing planning applications and
in any appeals that then take place. PPG 17, in effect, sets out
what the framework will be.
488. You really think that it is going to be
simpler, more certain, quicker and more user-friendly?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I very much hope so, yes.
I think PPG 17 would make a contribution to that as long as the
local authorities do their bit, which is do their needs assessment
in relation to the recreational needs in their area.
489. What you are saying, in effect, is "There
is too much guidance at national level, what you need to do is
do all the work at local government level, prepare all these strategies
and, then, you are on your own when it comes to planning guidance
because we have given you an overall indication but we have not
given you sufficient mandatory back-up."
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not accept that at
all. What we are doing is saying "Here are the principles,
the local authority should decide in its own area."
490. My Lord, you know that planning departments
are told always by their, usually rather inadequate, legal advisers
that they must do nothing which will put them at risk of wasting
the taxpayers' money by putting them into courts.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You would not have to
use the planning department necessarily to do an assessment in
the area of: "What are our needs for recreational sport and
open spaces? What have we got? Therefore, what should we do about
the existing facilities? What new facilities do we need?"
That is not, necessarily, the planning department's job, that
is a job for the environmental part of the local authority or
whoever is appropriate. You cannot get central government to do
that task in local authority areas, it would be totally inappropriate.
Sir Paul Beresford
491. Many of the local authorities are rather
curious as to whether your department ever assesses how many strategies,
how many documents, how many this, that and the next thing they
have got to do. Are you actually going to, somewhere in your department,
reduce the number?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A lot of local authorities
have made that point loud and clear. The number is 100 and something.
Obviously one needs to reduce as much as possible the burden of
producing such strategies.
492. On the issue of Section 106, remembering
what you said about impact fees, it goes beyond that because the
draft guidance, at present, does talk about the possibility of
enhancing or maintaining existing facilities but it talks about
their use by inhabitants on new developments or the needs of new
communities. Are you really saying that what you would like to
see is the guidance go further so that the needs of existing communities
can be taken account of as well? Otherwise you are simply going
to get new developments or existing developments, and all the
emphasis will be going on meeting the needs of new communities.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would not want to see
Section 106 restricted to, as it were, just the inhabitants of,
or the consequences of, new developments, because section 106
should be used to create a sustainable community overall, and
that must embrace the whole community rather than those who simply
come and live in a new development, for example.
493. How does that square with DOE circular
197 which, I think, states that planning agreements should not
be used to remedy existing deficiencies in provision?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It does not square with
it. You are right to identify that as something we need to look
in the course of the Green Paper, and we are going to looking
494. I am sorry, my Lord. We are getting into
a slightly bizarre situation of saying that we must bring about
these changes and ask local authorities to come up with various
strategies now. However, the Green Paper is going to come but
not until December, and meanwhile that may very well contain elements
which will require primary legislation, which means it could not
happen before the year after it actually comes out. Are you not
putting local authorities in a position where you are saying,
on the one hand, they have got to do a great deal more in sorting
out their own strategies, they must also widen some of the terms
under which they operate, but they will not have the primary legislation
to back them up and they will be required to do this before you
have made clear to Parliament what you want done in order to change
the planning system?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think that
is fair at all.
495. It was not meant to be fair, it was meant
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I apologise then. What
PPG 17 is saying is "Identify what your needs for recreation
etc. facilities are. Put that into your local development plan."
There is no need for any change in the law to achieve that. There
is no need for any change in the way that planning works for applications
which then follow in relation to development being over existing
facilities or for new facilities. They can then be dealt with
in accordance with whatever needs assessment has been done by
496. I think it is a cunning plot to expand
the work of your profession, my Lord.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can understand why you
might say that, but it is not right. It surely makes it simpler
if what you have got is clarity about what a local authority's
assessment of the needs for recreational facilities are.
497. Are you satisfied that enough local authorities
actually have a strategy? Fifteen per cent of those local authorities
have a part strategy, so most local authorities do not have a
strategy. What are you going to do about that now?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The guidance is saying
"You should assess the needs and then produce, thereby, a
definition of what you want to preserve and what extra you need."
498. What is going to change from how things
are now to the immediate future, not looking ahead to years when
this new legislation materialises?
(Ms Keeble) There is a higher priority placed in this
PPG on the process that we have been describing than there was
in the previous one. There are also other means that local authorities
can use to improve their parks and open spaces. It does not have
to be all an issue of doom and gloom. In terms of existing communities
some work has been done and can be done through regeneration of
inner city areas, and there has been some extremely positive work
done and examples of really good practice which is entirely consistent
with all the principles that run through this. I would not accept
that it has to be a question of everybody waiting until every
last bit is in place. The PPG will give it higher priority, other
work that is going on in government would also support the thrust
of this, and the work that is going on through the Task Force
will also deal with some of the detailed policy issues which are
missing at present about the open spaces. So I would not accept
it all has to be seen as being completely negative at all.
499. Can you help me on the issue of standards.
The PPG in its current form says that "in determining appropriate
levels of provision for their area, they should have regard to
standards of provision recommended by sports' governing bodies,
the National Playing Fields Association, and other recreational
interest groups". How do we ensure, first of all, that local
authorities are going to do this, bearing in mind that 40 have
not produced a plan for their areas in general terms, let alone
got down to that sort of detail? At the same time, one of the
issues that has been related back to us by witnesses is that in
doing this there has to be some flexibility; different areas will
have different needs and they are going to meet those needs in
different ways. Therefore, perhaps the very formulaic approach
of the National Playing Fields Association, which I think was
laid down in 1938, has really got to be moved on in time and looked
at in a more modern light. How are we going to get this requirement
and get some flexibility as well?
(Ms Keeble) That was part of the discussion we had
previously. There is an issue about standards and whether they
are appropriate. It is extremely important that minimum standards
should not become maximum standards. However, as I said before,
you have to trade that off against a requirement to provide at
least some benchmarks for the kind of access to open space that
you would expect the most disadvantaged communities to have, living
in most built-up areas. That is one of the issues, along with
the planning issue, that is going to be looked at by working group
4 of the Task Force. There is then an issue about whether you
go for the very kind of formulaic approach that the National Playing
Fields had, which is (a) out of date and (b) you can provide the
amount of space per thousand population and still leave some communities
with access to absolutely nothing. So that is where you might
want to consider that, or consider whether you say so many minutes'
travel time from home, or so many minutes' walking distance from
home and take that kind of approach. You would have to be extremely
careful that other areas do not pare down their provision. Obviously,
within that, you still have to make sure that you have the range
of different facilities that are needed. Once we have the proposals
from the working group for the Task Force, that would obviously
be something that PPG would then have to look at as to whether
you have an established standard or whether, as in the case of
Sport England, you have a variety of different benchmarks which
local authorities can take into account when deciding what is
right for their area.