Examination of witnesses (Questions 92
TUESDAY 14 MARCH 2000
and MR JEFFREY
92. If I could welcome you to the third session
this morning on our follow up inquiry into Town and Country Parks.
If I could ask you to identify yourselves for the record, first
(Sir Jocelyn Stevens) I am Jocelyn Stevens and I am
Chairman of English Heritage.
(Ms Alexander) Pam Alexander, Chief Executive of English
(Mr West) Jeffrey West, Director of Conservation Management.
93. I gather you would like to say a few words
to us at the start before we go into questions.
(Sir Jocelyn Stevens) Yes, please, Chairman. I would
appreciate that opportunity. English Heritage rejects the criticism
in the Committee's report, which is based on a misunderstanding
of our role in relation to public parks and our achievements with
the limited resources available to us. The vast majority of the
5,000 public parks in the United Kingdom are owned, managed and
maintained by local authorities and funded through the Revenue
Support Grant. English Heritage's principal responsibility in
relation to public parks is the compilation against national standards
of the Register of Parks and Gardens of special historic interest
in England. The Register currently contains 1,365 historic
parks and gardens, of which 162 are public parks. Since we began
our five year review in 1996, 55 public parks have been added
to the Register and we anticipate that a further 50 will be added
by the end of our systematic resurvey in 2002. We are looking,
therefore, at a maximum of 250 public parks in this Register containing
1,365. We are most concerned too about the way public parks have
been under valued and under funded in recent years, and by the
lack of maintenance, management, commitment and experienced staff
provided by local authorities. We support strongly the Committee's
recommendation that the Government ought to help local authorities
find ways to reverse cutbacks in park maintenance, of which there
is plenty of evidence. The plight of the public parks is so important
that it will be a matter of immediate concern for the Government's
Review of Policies Relating to the Historic Environment. This
review was commissioned by DCMS and DETR on 31 January 2000. We
suggest that no decision be made on establishing an Urban Parks
and Green Spaces Agency until this Review, which English Heritage
will deliver in September 2000, has been completed.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I realised you
did not like our criticisms. I think we would have preferred you
to have been a white knight riding to the rescue of country parks
but perhaps we will pursue this through questions. Tom Brake,
would you like to start.
94. I will perhaps let my colleagues pick up
later on your rather controversial opening words and I will stick
to the uncontroversial business initially. We are very pleased
that a database is being set up with information about parks,
that was clearly an area that our inquiries identified as being
a major weakness, the lack of information. Can you tell us anything
about the response rate, how many local authorities have responded,
what sort of quality of information are you getting and so on?
(Sir Jocelyn Stevens) I am not sure whether it is
a misunderstanding about the database. What we have is this Register.
It is not unlike the system we apply to our buildings, really,
grading and inspecting and checking. That has been with us for
a long time but it does not exactly add up to a database so it
must be something else you are talking about, is it?
(Ms Alexander) Can I respond on that? Yes, I think
it is the work that we commissioned with DETR and the Heritage
Lottery Fund from the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management.
From the indications that we have had so far they have had a very
good response. About 197nearly 200local authorities
have responded so far with information covering 683 parks. It
is indicating some very interesting trends. We have indications
that about 15 per cent of those are in poor condition and that
those that are in poor condition are declining so there is a clear
evidence of a spiral of decline which is obviously of great concern.
Around a third of the local authorities have no parks strategy
and no plans for one, so this is obviously an area that we would
want to explore further in the future. The report, which is of
course an interim report, should be published in the spring and
then we would hope to work with DETR and HLF to do further work,
I am sure through ILAM, commissioning more detailed surveys, identifying
specific problems, which parks are most at risk and what the priorities
are to do something about it.
95. As an organisation, English Heritage, what
are you going to do now that you have already identified the trend
of 15 per cent of parks in poor condition and decline? You have
identified that a third of local authorities do not have a strategy.
What are you going to do now with that information?
(Ms Alexander) We will not work alone on this. The
point of working with DETR and HLF was to try and ensure that
all of the national bodies who were interested in this were able
to identify the problems, firstly the paucity of data which your
Committee established last time in your report and then to identify
what the priorities were. I think it is a little bit premature
before we have even got the interim report to be saying exactly
what the priorities will be for action after that. One of them
certainly would be to gather more information so that we are much
clearer about what the nature of the problem is. The area where
we feel we are able to act immediately is in giving guidance on
ways of addressing those problems, the best means of drawing up
conservation and management plans, the priorities and the skills
training that we need to put in place, the work that is needed.
I believe there are other areas that you may wish to pursue later
that relate to those.
96. Yes, I will probably come on to that in
a moment. Just to concentrate a little bit on the mechanics of
this database, who is responsible for the ongoing maintenance
of it? Is that your responsibility?
(Ms Alexander) Would you like to respond on that,
(Mr West) At present ILAM, the Institute, have simply
been commissioned to do this as a one off exercise and the results
will be published and they will be available to all the commissioning
97. Will they be publicly available as well?
(Mr West) They will be publicly available. One of
the questions which the commissioning partners will be addressing
is whether this database needs to be maintained in future. I think
it is pretty clear already that it will need to be maintained,
and we shall have to discuss with our partners how that is best
98. At the moment it is a one off exercise and
at the end of the process it could be that it will not be maintained
(Mr West) I am quite sure that one of the recommendations
coming out of it will be that a permanent database is maintained.
We shall have to discuss with our funding partners how that is
best done. I am quite clear that this cannot be left as a one
99. Do you have a view as to which body is best
placed to provide this ongoing maintenance?
(Mr West) We do not have a firm view as yet, though
clearly ILAM are perhaps well placed to do that and certainly
we will be considering asking them whether that is something they
will be prepared to take on in future.