Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 46-59)




  46. Can I welcome you to the third session this morning and ask you to identify yourselves for the record? I do not know whether you want to say anything by way of introduction, or are you happy to straight to questions?
  (Mr Brooking) I will probably give a brief statement, but, first of all, I am Trevor Brooking, Chair of Sport England.
  (Ms Simmonds) I am Brigid Simmonds. I am a Council Member of Sport England and also Chief Executive of Business in Sport and Leisure.
  (Mr Payne) I am David Payne. I am Director of the More Places programme in Sport England, responsible for the planning function of Sport England and development of facilities, and I am a professional planner.

  47. Thank you. You would like to say a few words?
  (Mr Brooking) Yes, just briefly. First of all, Sport England are very pleased to have been given the opportunity to give evidence here, which we think is a very important inquiry. Certainly, I think, you have seen from our submission that we think PPG17 is quite weak and a backward step from the 1991 version, and so it was quite interesting to hear some of the earlier comments. Because, really, I am not here to argue sport v. open space, because I think they have to be complementary, and a lot of my early years in sport was very much in formal recreation, in parks, on playing-fields, or whatever; and so we are here really to strengthen it from both points of view, and I think that is important. Certainly, you have only got to look at the Prime Minister a few months ago, who mentioned that investment in sport is not really a policy just for sport, it is very much these days one for education, it is youngsters developing in behaviour, discipline, all areas really of social skills, health, with the problems of obesity, and so forth. Certainly then we work very closely with the Home Office, trying to put in sporting elements to fighting crime and some of the vandalism and behaviour with young people, and it is those areas, also with the anti-drug unit that we work closely. So I think it is the wider agenda that we are looking at. Somebody mentioned earlier the feel-good factor of sport, and I think earlier this month perhaps, with the football team qualifying for the World Cup, there was a fantastic upsurge of national pride, although I would say we had to wait till the 93rd minute before it happened, but it was still a good feeling when it happened. Also, a year ago, with the Olympics, again there were several weeks where everyone across the country, because I think at some stage some member of the family is interested, has an interest in sport. So really we need the PPG17 to be much stronger, much clearer, to give us the technical support really of the planning process, and that is really why we are here today, because we do think we need to protect facilities, particularly playing-fields, where I think the current draft is actually a lot weaker this time round. We have got to try to develop new facilities, and certainly with the Urban White Paper, the Rural White Paper and certainly the Strategy for Sport from the Government, we need to have the PPG17 strong if we are to be able to deliver this wider agenda. So, as I say, it is the only PPG that reflects sport, it needs to be strong and fair, and we are very pleased to have the opportunity. One thing I would say, I have got the opportunity to meet the Minister for Planning, Sally Keeble, next Monday, so I appreciate that from DTLR that we are getting the opportunity to try to have a discussion and work on that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mr Betts

  48. The impression you have given is that Sport England has almost been sidelined by this process and has not been involved in any meaningful way in it; so what contribution have you made towards this revision, if any, and what are the key issues you would have wanted to see in the revised guidance, and are they there?
  (Ms Simmonds) We, obviously, have made a submission, as has everybody else, on the revision of this. I think there were four main areas where we would like to see it strengthened. The first is making the case for sport; if you do not make the case at a local authority level, to local authority planners, they will not include sport, because it is not at the top of their agenda. I think the second one is the criteria-based protection for playing-fields, which is in the 1991 version and has somehow disappeared in this version. The third area is particularly about introducing a concept of affordable sport; just as you have affordable housing when you build a housing development, why not have the provision of affordable sport which would have to be there.


  49. What is affordable sport?
  (Ms Simmonds) Sport which everyone has access to.

Mr Betts

  50. Is that free sport?

  (Ms Simmonds) No, not free, but on the basis that local authorities provide sports facilities; anyway, some of them are free in an informal way, but, a lot of them, if you go swimming, you pay, whatever the amount is, £1.50, on your swim, so it should be a similar facility. And the fourth area is very much about strengthening regional guidance and ensuring that regional guidance really looks at sport as well, because otherwise we end up in a situation whereby you have a swimming-pool in one local authority next door to a boundary where you have got a swimming-pool in another local authority, and regional planning guidance should be planning for major facilities and ensuring that it is looking at the local facilities as well.
  (Mr Brooking) You were talking about the pricing structure though, that is a key factor, because playing pitches, for instance, it varies right across the country, the cost factor, and actually some say, well, the use of the pitches is not as high as it used to be, and actually if you go and look at the pitches they are mud heaps, no changing facilities, and the boiler does not work, so they wonder why the pitches are not being used. So, again, it is the quality. What is the pricing structure, is it accessible to the unemployed person, and to some it is out of their reach; and so it is areas like that. I went to Sunderland City Council to open a sports centre, the Raich Carter Sports Centre, about two weeks ago, which is a fantastic example, it is a Beacon Council, and they are using sports development right across the district, and we put in £5 million towards the cost of a £6 million sports centre, which, you have got a local community group called "Back on the Map", which is actually developing a pricing structure, with up to 60 or 70 per cent discount for usage, and they have got 62 per cent of their local community actually utilising this. It has been open four months, 110,000 people have gone through, far in excess of expectations. Even some of the arguments that one or two of the local centres would actually then lose some of their business are wrong, because, some 28, 29 per cent, the one down the road, a mile and a half away, has had an upsurge in usage. So what we are saying is, if you put the right structure in, facilities, access, pricing, you actually can tap into the whole community.

  51. Can I just pick you up on a point you made earlier. I can see, you have got a desire to have a national strategy for sport which is reflected down at local level then and links into the planning guidance, and that is used as a vehicle to try to achieve it, and you said there was no conflict between open space provision and sport, but, clearly, if one of these major new centres, which you are so enthusiastic about, probably quite rightly, is going to be built on an open space then there is a potential conflict. As we said just before, there may be no conflict between a playing-field and open space but there is between a major new development. Can a PPG like this really deal with all those sorts of issues you want to see and the provision of open space as well?
  (Mr Payne) Of course, the context of the national planning guidance is to set clear, concise, planning frameworks for local authorities to make decisions in, in terms of development plans, planning applications and appeals; therefore, we think it is important that there is clarity in the guidance about the complementariness of sport and open space, in clear, national guidance. We think that can be reflected in local strategies that set out the needs for both and sets that into the framework. We think it is important that the national guidance actually puts an encouragement, if not a requirement, on local authorities to prepare those open space and playing-field strategies. And one of the roles that we play precisely in the potential conflicts of open space and playing-fields is now a statutory role, and we are a statutory consultee in the protection of playing-fields. That also can encourage, of course, open space that is used as a playing-field, they have complementary uses, and we will always seek to protect playing-fields from development if there is a continuing need for that playing-field space. So the important point, I think, is, in national guidance, that there is a requirement for local authorities to produce playing-field and open space strategies, based on the local assessment of need; and part of our role has been, since 1991, to assist local authorities in how to do that, both through grant aid and through advisory assistance as well.

Ms King

  52. The Department for Education and Skills determines whether it feels there is adequate provision in terms of playing-fields. I speak as an MP whose constituents did not have a single playing-field in 1997. Do you think that they have come to the correct conclusions on what determines adequate provision?
  (Mr Payne) I think this is an important context in terms of joined-up government, if I could be so bold. I think it is important that Education and Skills are actually looking at the continuing needs for playing-fields for schools and existing community use; we also, of course, have other departments looking at, and, again, in terms of DCMS, its own role in terms of the sporting future, setting out what it would like to see in the PPG in terms of guidance for playing-fields for community use and potential community use. We think it is very important that all those aspects come together in one unified approach that actually assesses the need for playing-fields and open space, set out in national planning guidance, then reinforced in local strategies that local authorities can actually take on to protect, promote and develop. And I think that is one of our key messages, protect, promote and develop playing-fields and open space.
  (Ms Simmonds) It helps, with local authorities. The first PPG, the 1991 PPG, had a very strong statement about local authorities having strategies for sport; we are now ten years on, only 30 per cent of local authorities have these strategies, and it is very important that the need for strategies, is brought back into a strengthened PPG 17.


  53. Are any of them any good?
  (Ms Simmonds) Yes, some of them are very good; but I think you have just highlighted an example where perhaps you did not have a strategy, and therefore that is why your facilities were not there, and it is very important that the local authority plays its part, both in land planning and in its cultural or its leisure development department, to ensure that those facilities are there and for everyone to use.
  (Mr Brooking) But you have hit on a point, about are they any good, because there are some excellent ones, and we have got examples of really good practice which have helped our evidence, because all government departments want evidence, where this sounds very good, how does it work. But, the fact is, certainly in a significant part of the country as well, they are not delivering, and the fact is we want to access projects and programmes into those areas; now if you do not give them strong steers and guidelines they will just abandon ship and continue not doing anything. And the actual areas that we want to access, and the very communities that need us to develop those programmes and projects, we will not be able to because it will be far more difficult. It is those non-deliverable areas that we want to get into, and that is why the PPG17 is so vital.

Sir Paul Beresford

  54. Mr Payne, you mentioned the importance of local authorities assessing need; one of the difficulties is the local authorities will assess demand, but if you provide the facilities, stimulate it, raise the prospect of sport, work through the schools, etc., that need should be greater than the demand?
  (Mr Payne) Yes, this is always the thing about latent demand; if you create something it creates a need in itself.

  55. So how do you get round it?
  (Mr Payne) Sport England has done extensive work to assess the need for sports facilities. The way that we do that is, we actually look at existing participation where there is a good supply of facilities, so we assume that, basically, that is taking up latent demand. And the way that we then do it is apply that method and that sort of planning approach to where there is what is potentially a need for facilities, so we actually compare good provision, good supply, good management, with other areas of the country that, in essence, need to reach that standard. And that is the consistent advice that we have given to local authorities for ten years in our planning advisory service on facilities planning. Again, I think a useful part of the 1991 PPG was actually to set that context for that work to take place, which allowed Sport England to then develop its advisory services through our regional offices, and we employ professional planners and sports facilities planners, and each of our nine regional offices takes on and provides that advice and assistance to local authorities.

  56. Do you compare this country with other countries, particularly those that have been successful, in sporting terms?
  (Mr Payne) I think facility provision, without a doubt, does play a key role, and, for example, we could say, in Australia, that the number of 50-metre swimming-pools is far in excess of what it is in this country, and I think we can see the evidence of facilities providing opportunities, providing opportunities for sports people to excel. So; yes.
  (Ms Simmonds) But we do work with individual governing bodies. I chaired a meeting with the Amateur Swimming Association to look at precisely that, how many 50-metre pools we have, where strategically they would like to see them based; and that is where the regional planning system could work with the governing bodies of sport, to ensure that sites are allocated for such things as 50-metre pools.
  (Mr Brooking) But it is not just facilities; the sports development looks at the quality of coaching and the access into facilities and coaching, and I spoke about the Olympics a year ago. The sad fact is, the actual squad that went out there, two-thirds of it now comes from social economic groups A and B, and, I have got to say, 20, 25 years ago that actual balance was totally reversed, and it is reflecting that. You cannot tell me there is not some sporting talent in some of the inner cities and rural areas that are not getting the opportunity to try sport; but we are losing champions, because they are not even getting the chance to find out if they are any good. And what we need is, to reverse that trend, we need to give the opportunity to some of the communities that are not getting that chance; and if you imagine one or two sporting heroes emerging from that, the uplift it would do for the communities. And so it is an overall major issue really, but we are working with police and social services and areas like that, where they are arguing the case that sport has to be a part of some of the problems that are being caused. And I think it is the life skills that sport is putting into place, as far as the behaviour, discipline, team work, self-confidence, communication skills, a whole range of life skills; if they drift away from sport, the younger people, later on, I hope they do not, but it stays with them, and will give us a better community.

Mrs Ellman

  57. What are your regional organisations doing to bring a joined-up approach to sports issues?
  (Mr Payne) A number of things. First of all, I think, in national planning, what we are doing is actually setting the context, using the existing planning guidance, using some of the comments, to go back to an earlier question about what Sport England has done, in terms of preparation of this guidance. With DTLR, in 1996, we jointly commissioned and undertook the effectiveness of the existing PPG, which came out with 36—[2]

  58. But what are you doing through your regional organisations, because that is where you are operating regionally, all the government departments who are apparently not very joined up also operate regionally, there are also regional assemblies, there are regional agencies. What is it that you are doing, through your regional structure, to bring a joined-up approach at that level?
  (Mr Brooking) If I start initially with our own Minister, of course, who now is the Minister of State and actually he chairs cross-department meetings now, involving health, education and also now the DTLR are involved, so that there is so-called joined-up thinking. Then you devolve it down to obviously the regional assemblies, the Regional Development Agencies are going to be big players, and I have seen six or seven of those already. I have had one criticism, that I must say was spot the sports person on them, because we cannot have an input if we have not got any representation on them, and that is another debate. Cultural consortiums; our regional offices have to be working with all those, because we are not trying to say sport is the be all and end all, what we are asking for is everyone to sit round the table, because we can put facilities in rural areas but if there is no transportation element taken on board and how to get there, what is the point of putting extra curriculum on if no youngster can get home two hours later. And so you have to have an overall picture, and that is why, certainly nationally, our own Minister, the cross-department stuff, that has got to be devolved out, but we need to be sitting round the table. There are initiatives through government coming out of everyone's ears, but you have got to tap into them and they are going into concentrated areas, some 20 per cent of the country; well, sporting deprivation cuts across 80 per cent of the country, and we can have a massive impact in other areas. And it is getting everyone realising what everyone else is trying to achieve, and that is the main agenda, I totally agree, and certainly the regionalisation one, because, of course, our current Minister comes from planning and is very keen for us to take on board that agenda.
  (Ms Simmonds) I think, at a regional level also, our regional offices, the staff of those regional offices go out and help local authorities to plan for sport. I sit on the Lottery Panel; if you think we have had 8,000 applications since the Lottery began and we have given 3,500 awards, we spent £1.24 billion, that is a huge sum of money which has gone, obviously, into sport, and a lot of these projects need planning permission. And that is another reason, as we go forward with the Lottery, why the planning guidance has got to be stronger.


  59. Do you think you have got good value for money from that?
  (Ms Simmonds) I think we have got good value for money, but I think it will take at least ten years before you will start to see the results of that, because it is about people participating, at a much earlier age and it is about getting them through the system on to more people, more places, more medals, which is the raison d'être for Sport England.
  (Mr Brooking) I think, when the Lottery was set up though it was supposedly additional money, and a lot of the time, unfortunately, sadly, it has been substitution money, and, as I sit here now, as Exchequer funding, my organisation gets £40 million for Exchequer funding, and when you think of the growth in sport and leisure in the last five years that is not reflected from that point of view; so the Lottery money is absolutely crucial. But just sports halls and swimming-pools alone, those that were put up 20, 25 years ago would cost our organisation £5 billion to refurbish; now we are getting inundated with sports facilities of that sort to refurbish. Well, our figure, which initially was £300 million is now £210 million, we cannot cope just with that element of sports facilities.

2   Note by witness: 36 recommendations for any revision. Back

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