Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
TUESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2001
80. That is alright, in terms of you charming
your colleagues, but what about the rest of the members of the
Urban Task Force; are they going to be satisfied as to whether
they have got what they want in, or not?
(Mr Matthew) There are two ways, as I said earlier
on. There is the question that we did make a representation; but
I think one of the things the Task Force wanted to do was to get
a more focused look at the whole question of planning and management,
and I think this is where we need to look at the work that is
coming out of the working group. And I think, in a sense, that
working group will signal the issues that they feel the guidance
really needs to take on board.
81. The 1991 version of PPG17 stated quite clearly
that local authorities were expected to make assessments of the
recreational needs of their local population and to set standards.
It is very clear, from everything that we have read in preparation
and what we have heard this morning, that, in fact, very few local
authorities have actually done that, yet you are repeating the
same advice in the draft; so what confidence have you got that
they will do it now when they quite patently did not take your
advice from the 1991 version?
(Mr Ellis) I think, in many ways, that confidence
actually comes from the elevation of the language that we use;
we are actually placing, if you like, the survey of the area and
the analysis of that survey in the context of forward planning
much more clearly than we did previously. There is, I think, a
very excellent section at the beginning of the PPG where it lists
what we actually expect of a local authority. There we have the
word 'should': "should assess the range of existing and future
needs; should establish the quantity, quality and accessibility
of facilities," and so on. The fact then that those assessments,
that forward planning, are put at the heart of the protection
of existing facilities underlines the importance and creates that
pivotal role, which actually gives the local authority the understanding
that they have here an exceedingly important tool to their forward
planning, to their decisions on planning applications.
82. 'Should' does imply that you do not have
to do it; why not have something 'must'?
(Mr Ellis) If I am told I should do something, I tend
to jump, but that just might be my upbringing!
(Mr Matthew) I think, Chair, certainly, there is a
legal guidance, and I think it was Lord Justice Woolf, and the
legal advice is that, essentially, policy-makers can, in a sense,
seek to require action, but certainly in the context of central
government there is still scope for local authorities to consider
the extent to which they can comply. I think there is a distinction
in law between 'must' and 'should', in that regard.
(Mr Ellis) I mentioned, at one stage, Chairman, that
our desire is to have the policy in this document as sharp as
we can make it.
83. And you think 'should' is sharp enough?
(Mr Ellis) It is certainly the sharpness we have used,
for example, in the PPG on planning for housing, which has actually
created a change in the way the local authorities actually deal
with that topic. I think the language of 'should', rather than
'think about' or 'these things are useful' is actually very helpful.
84. Could I go on to ask you whether local authorities
should or must consult local communities when they are assessing
local needs for open space and recreation and sport, because,
again, there is no mention about the need to consult local communities
in the draft?
(Mr Ellis) I would ask David to go into the machinery
of the words in there, but certainly the intention is that local
communities' involvement is essential to this process. The 'should',
if you like, is picked up in the guidance we issue on how everyone
actually tackles the preparation of UDPs, local plans, and so
on; where there is the expectation that the communities will be
consulted. So, clearly, on the information that has been assembled
on assessment of need, what that community actually required;
that consultationthat dialogue actually, I think, because
consultation can be a take it or leave itit is a dialogue,
with public participation, I think it is very important, yes.
(Mr Wilkes) I think we would accept there probably
is no specific reference, not that I can see it in the section
on assessment of needs, which requires local authorities to consult
local communities on these issues. I think one could suggest it
is probably an omission here. I would say, however, that the basis
of the planning system is participation and consultation; the
development plans process starting-point is participation and
consultation. So I think it is inherent throughout the whole of
the planning system that that would happen; but, clearly, a specific
reference may help in this context.
85. Could I perhaps, just briefly, ask Philippa
Drew or Niall Mackenzie about cultural strategies, because there
is often a disagreement or a heated discussion inside town halls
and county halls about where exactly to locate responsibility
for open space. Do you believe that the consideration of open
space is a legitimate part of the preparation of a cultural strategy
for an area?
(Ms Drew) Perhaps I could draw your attention to the
guidance which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued
about local cultural strategies, it is this document, which was
issued about a year ago, in which we say, we describe what the
scope of culture is, because your point is, I think, a very good
one. And we list there, we say, under the heading of 'Culture
has a material dimension', we list, of course, the performing
and visual arts, media, film, television, libraries, museums,
built heritage, and then list, very specifically, the bits that
you have referred to: "sports events, facilities and development,
parks, open spaces, wildlife, habitats, water environment and
countryside recreation, children's play, playgrounds and play
activities and informal leisure pursuits." And then they
go on to talk about the tourism, festivals and attractions. So
I think the answer to your question is yes.
86. So how many of these cultural strategies
have you actually seen?
(Ms Drew) I have to confess that I have not seen any
of these cultural strategies; in my job, they do not come across
my desk. But if you wanted some examples I am sure we could find
them for you.
87. We were told that there was an overload
of strategies; perhaps it would be helpful if you could tell us
how many local authorities have actually come up with them, and
perhaps give us one or two examples of good ones, where play and
other things like that have really been included?
(Ms Drew) May I submit that in an additional memorandum?
88. Yes, certainly.
(Ms Drew) Certainly, I am very happy to do so.
89. The draft PPG talks a lot about the need
for high quality open space; who defines that high quality, and
what does it mean?
(Mr Ellis) Forgive me, but it comes back to the process
for assessment by the local planning authority. We do not define
quality in the PPG, because quality is not an absolute. What we
do is to use the word, I think, throughout the document, to drive
home the need to think in qualitative as well as quantitative
terms. I think I mentioned a few moments ago that we are very
conscious of the risk of planners counting facilities without
thinking in terms of whether whatever they are actually counting
is meeting, or can meet, the needs of their community, because
of its quality. There is good practice guidance from people like
the Sports Council, when it comes to sporting facilities; we heard
from the Countryside Agency this morning on their advice when
it comes to green areas, on what quality can mean. Now quality
obviously will be firmly anchored in the context of that community
and what can be provided. The key in the PPG for the land use
planning system is that we move planners away, as I mentioned
a moment ago, from counting beans to thinking as to whether or
not that particular facility, be it open space, be it a built
facility, is actually performing as it should for their community.
90. Can the planning process incorporate the
need to maintain high quality?
(Mr Ellis) There is a tricky issue here that we have
to address. In the sense that what land use planning is focusing
on, what the PPG is about, is controlling the use and development
of land in the interests of the community; so it is dealing, in
effect, with new development. We want to ensure that the strategy
in the plan relating to these themes interlocks properly with
what the local authority are producing in their community strategy,
in their duty of well-being, but we cannot, through the PPG, deal
other than in one or two circumstances, which I will come on to,
with the quality of existing facilities. It deals with quality
by actually looking at the assessment in those terms as well as
91. You said, the "existing", let
us now move to new proposals, which will come against the planning
process. Can the concept of the need to maintain high quality
be incorporated into planning guidelines for new proposals?
(Mr Ellis) We say in the PPG that when you are looking
at the additional facilities that are required by a new development
one does not necessarily look to add extra facilities to a community's
portfolio, if the need of that community is to improve what it
92. No, I want to keep to the very specific
point I have raised, which is a proposal to produce, let us say,
high quality public space, and the local authority, whoever it
is decides, defines that in the way they think is appropriate.
Now my question is, is it possible to incorporate in the planning
process the need to maintain that space at the same quality, acceptable
to the local authority, through the planning process? Is it possible
to incorporate that in the planning process?
(Mr Ellis) I am sorry, I am struggling slightly, because
the answer is a bit of 'yes' and a bit of 'no'. Yes, in the sense
that good planning is about good urban design, it is about ensuring
that what we have in the way of built and unbuilt spaces in the
community work properly, in terms of their accessibility, in terms
of the way they are designedbecause of the need for community
safety and security. So, you can set out clear criteria for what
is expected, and with new development ensure that that new development
is drawn up to reflect those particular requirements. There are
certain times where the new development can be linked with the
enhancement of existing facilities, or indeed there can be links
made through Section 106 for the future management of that facility.
But for land use planning to actually bite on the management of
existing facilities, outside what you can connect via new development,
is actually, I think, straying beyond the purview of land use
93. I am focusing on new facilities, not existing
ones. Let me ask you more specifically. Section 106, what is the
scope for extending the definition of Section 106 to include a
requirement on a developer to maintain a facility?
(Mr Ellis) As you know, Chairman, I think we are going
to be publishing, before too long, a consultation paper on how
we use planning obligations/Section 106s.
94. "Before too long"; could you define
that a little bit more precisely?
(Mr Ellis) It is seen to be, quite rightly, part of
the Planning Green Paper package, so it will either be towards
the end of the year or at the beginning of next year. As you know,
unfortunately time in these matters is never quite as accurate
as I might like it to be, but certainly before too long: the turn
of the year. One of the issues that we are addressing in there
is the very concern you describe. What is it right for the planning
system to actually seek to achieve in the way of securing the
facility, the scope of the sort of facilities it might like to
secure, and then, having secured that facility for the community,
what role, what scope, is there for the planning system to ensure
that that facility is maintained in the quality fashion that can
contribute properly to that community's need? There is already
some scope; whether or not that scope is sufficient is something
that we will be exploring, because, quite rightly, there is concern
amongst some users of the system that the current guidance is
drafted in a way that perhaps does not allow for sufficient opportunity.
95. Will the new consideration that is being
given to this issue be related to the conclusions you reach on
(Mr Ellis) In the sense that what we will be looking
to do is to ensure that the work we undertake on finalising the
PPG connects properly with the way thinking is going on that particular
issue then the answer is yes. Obviously, if we are publishing
a consultation on planning obligations, if there are elements
of that which are less certain than others, we will have to actually
reflect on that about the time of finalising this PPG.
96. Can I just pick you up on this, because
I think it is an important one. And I understand what you are
saying about PPGs and effectively they are dealing with individual
planning applications and how they are treated, but we have already
talked about the links into the UDP which should form the framework,
and there they are attempting to do a bit more, they are attempting
to look at the needs of a community and how they should be met.
That then links into the regional planning policies, it links
into the efforts of bodies like Sport England and the countryside
bodies to make sure there is a proper provision on the facilities
within their remit. And therefore the issue is made which is absolutely
crucial, whether it is about maintenance of existing historic
parks, or sporting facilities that were built 20 or 30 years ago,
if you are trying to look for the delivery of a provision for
the community then what is done already and whether it is going
to be there in ten years' time is surely just as important as
dealing with new applications. How is this linked together, because
it seems to many people out there that there is a lack of joined-up
government going on somewhere in all this?
(Mr Wilkes) I think you have to accept there are limitations
on what can be done in terms of maintenance and management of
facilities through the planning system, but, equally, in the context
of a local authority, the local authority can develop a strategy,
as part of their community strategy, where they have a duty to
provide well-being for the people who live in that area. Now one
of those elements will be access to good quality sport and recreational
facilities, and if there is a management issue involved in that
then I think that is an issue which the local authority has to
address through their own community strategy, the corporate elements
of that. It is not a specific planning issue.
97. Is guidance given from the Department, about
best practice, about how this might be done?
(Mr Wilkes) I am not acquainted with all the detailed
guidance on community strategies.
(Mr Ellis) Peter, is this something you have picked
up on the Task Force?
(Mr Matthew) If I could just say, I think one of the
issues the Task Force has picked up, if I could put it in those
terms, is this interface issue. There seems to be a set of issues
which are around planning and design and ensuring that people
have adequate provision. And I think there is then a set of issues
which is about, well, how do you keep the quality and maintain
the quality; and I think, in those terms, I am looking at quality
then over the question of to what extent provision is meeting
needs. I think the other side of quality is to do with the condition
of the space; and I think those two things, at present, there
is a difficulty in how we actually join at the middle. And I think,
planning, by all means, we can see that there is a clear responsibility
in terms of planning and design; in terms of how that links then
with the management and maintenance, I think one of the issues
the Task Force is looking at is the role of strategies. And I
think once we start talking about strategies there is still a
question of what is the appropriate strategy for linking the two
aspects; and I think that is something that the Task Force is
considering carefully and with a view to giving some kind of guidance
(Mr Ellis) And what we have done for the guidance
is to make it quite clear that quality is important. So what we
are looking to achieve is that the planners in local authorities
are talking properly and doing their forward planning properly,
with their colleagues who are responsible for the maintenance
and management of these resources, and indeed with the private
sector where relevant. What the document is, is a means of ensuring
the planning system is doing its part, providing for the future
needs of communities. Clearly, part of those future needs is using
what you have already properly. It will be for other parts of
the corporate entity, the local authority, through their community
planning and their duty of well-being, to ensure those elements
are being picked up adequately.
98. Can we move on to what is one of my own
bug-bears. I think we are terrible in this country at planning
new communities, as opposed to building new houses, and all too
often, when you get new housing developments, there is a total
absence of recreational facilities for children, whether it be
younger children or teenagers. Many authorities aim to use the
National Playing-Fields Association guidelines, but, as yet, central
government has made no pronouncement at all over the desirability
or requirements that would be the shape of leisure facilities
for the young provided within new developments. Why is that not
(Mr Ellis) I would probably, actually in the gentlest
terms, disagree with the conclusion that you came to. The whole
thrust of government guidance, not just this PPG but PPG3, for
example, in its thinking about planning for housing, is the importance
of developing communities, not just thinking in terms of bricks
and mortar. For example, a few weeks ago, Lord Falconer published,
together with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment,
a good practice guide in support of PPG3, called 'Better Places
to Live'. The guide was drafted to serve as a companion to PPG3.
It was designed to address how communities are either helped to
be created through land use planning or thwarted through land
use planning. It talked about the need for connecting with existing
communities, for thinking about access. It is just not what you
actually provide in that new community that is necessarily important,
albeit it can be, it is how you actually connect properly with
the wider community. At its basic, is the public transport right?
Are you actually ensuring the correct links between a new housing
development and existing facilities? Clearly sport, open space
and recreation, but also wider facilities, where you shop, and
things like that.
99. I know plenty of areas, I have been involved
in, both in my own constituency and in past political roles in
areas where you have had new development, where there has not
been even so much as a swing and slide, let alone a school, shops,
public transport, etc., etc. And, at its most basic level, we
all too frequently miss out the local leisure facilities that
do not require you to go by bus into town, five miles away, but
actually are on the doorstep; and I have had parents in new town
areas come to me saying, "We haven't even got a playground."
Now why is the Government not setting out minimum standards, minimum
guidelines, to say, "At the very least, you will provide
this range of leisure facilities within a designated area,"
of what is often many hundreds of new houses, even thousands of
(Mr Ellis) I agree with you entirely that there are
too many places which have actually been developed, as I said,
as bricks and mortar; which have not actually had the right components
to help foster community. Planning cannot create community, but
it can actually do its best to avoid it being obstructive. On
the issue of whether or not we set from the centre standards,
or encourage local authorities to work out their own standards
in the light of local assessment; this is one of the issues that
we have generally sought opinion on. I mentioned at the beginning,
when I was introducing what I was going to say, that the document
is consultative generally, because we want to hear what is best
for local authorities. Clearly, the current draft is based upon
the view that standards should be set locally by planning authorities
to reflect local needs and local circumstances. The risk with
national standards is that they become a straightjacket, stifling
innovation, thought and, indeed, the drive for quality we have
been talking about this morning. The advantage, in my opinion,
of locally drawn-up standards- benchmarks, I am very aware that
the word, standards, slipped into benchmarks this morningis
that when drawn up locally they are best placed to actually fit
properly in the circumstances, needs and opportunities of that
community. There is a series of thematic benchmarks already out
there, which we actually signpost local authorities to; to think
as to whether or not in the circumstances of their forward planning
they are helpful in that particular context. We mentioned the
playing-field standards, for example. What we do not want to actually
do is to go down the path of a one-size fits every circumstance.
I do not think that is exactly sensible for planning. The thrust
of this guidance, if I might be blunt, is to say to local planning
authorities, "Do your job properly; look at actually what
your community's needs are, assess actually what you require to
meet those needs, and through a sensibly put together strategy
in your development plan look to deliver on those."