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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-27)



  20. In your written evidence, in paragraph 14, you talk about the importance of guidelines should be linked to the PPG to take future maintenance costs into account; and then later in your evidence, paragraph 19, you talk about the importance of local planning policies identifying how Section 106 agreements can be used. Now that seems a little at odds with what you would like to see in the draft PPG to deal with what you identify as very important issues of maintenance and management?
  (Mr West) I think there are two points here. First of all, the PPG can reasonably include something which encourages local authorities to take a proactive approach towards the management and maintenance of open spaces, and there are good precedents for that. PPG15, for example, includes precisely that sort of general exhortation to good practice in management and maintenance, that could be supported, as Sir Neil has said, by detailed good practice guidance. Within the PPG itself, it can certainly address the use of Section 106 agreements, the use, indeed, of Section 215 notices by a local authority in order to enforce the tidying up of land, which might not be in local authority ownership, which is a critical part of public open space. There are specific things which can be delivered through the planning system, and it certainly needs to pick up that, and discuss the pros and cons. There are cons to the use of Section 106 agreements, of course, as well as pros; one of the possible problems is that they have been used to create new public open space which local authorities do not have the resources to maintain adequately, and that can lead to a diminution in the quality of the management and maintenance of some existing open space. The PPG should require local authorities to think about these issues before using Section 106 agreements, instead of rushing in to use them in cases where perhaps it is unwise to do so. It comes back to the importance of strategies. We are absolutely sold on the importance of encouraging local authorities to take a strategic approach, and then to think that through right across the whole range of local authority responsibilities.

  21. But these are practical issues, are they not?
  (Mr West) Yes.

  22. And so you are saying that you would like the specific points you have just mentioned to be included in the PPG?
  (Mr West) Very much so, yes.

Sir Paul Beresford

  23. Mr Coleman, what is the Countryside Agency's opinion of the treatment in the draft PPG of the urban fringe and Green Belts, and do you feel it gives adequate protection to greenfield sites?
  (Mr Coleman) It is not PPG2, so there is a Green Belt PPG that obviously deals very much with the appropriateness of different types of recreation in the Green Belt type of urban fringe, and we would not expect that to be dealt with here simply by cross-reference.

  24. Do they integrate, or do they conflict, under PPGs?
  (Mr Coleman) We have not detected a very blatant conflict, we would have drawn attention to it if we saw it; however, sorry, you asked a much wider question, I was answering part of it on the Green Belt. The urban fringe in general, we would have preferred to see much more treatment of the importance of the urban fringe and the countryside around towns and the links to make between that and open space within the urban fabric; there is huge potential for using the planning system creatively, not just to prevent inappropriate development, and, of course, that is important, but to promote and encourage the right sort of development which can enable the urban fringe and the countryside around towns to be used much better for many types of recreation, whether it involves built sports facilities or open land. So we have advocated for some time a PPG dealing only with the countryside around towns. I think the argument has not been accepted, clearly, but we believe that it is an issue of sufficient importance, and the planning system offers sufficient potential to provide solutions, that it should be dealt with much more.

  25. Could that be integrated into this?
  (Mr Coleman) It could be developed, yes; there could be a much longer treatment of urban fringe and countryside around towns.

  26. There was a certain amount of sensitivity in the south east because much though the areas around London feel as though they are the urban fringe, they would rather not be. Have we a prospect of a conflict where we will have this draft PPG becoming a PPG, and yet, on the other hand, we have the previous Secretary of State saying "You're going to build tens of thousands of houses, and, by the way, we've got a few applications from incinerators, and so forth, on greenfield, open space sites," etc? So there is a distinct conflict, not helped by the fact that one of the Ministers recently has made it quite clear that he anticipates the encroachment of some of the tens of thousands of houses that he is demanding, out of Surrey, Sussex, and so on, will be onto greenfield sites, perhaps even Green Belt sites?
  (Mr Coleman) I do not see that the content of this PPG makes that problem any more difficult or any easier to resolve. Clearly, as I say, in the situations you are talking of, which is metropolitan Green Belt sites, PPG2 is the most heavily fought over, along with, obviously, the approved development plans also. The fact that a PPG17 encourages planning authorities to think about recreational use of urban fringe and Green Belt land and what this might require within the constraints of the PPG2 policies I do not think will make it any easier or more difficult.


  27. But on this Green Belt issue, if you put a football pitch on you could almost say it stays green, could you not; if you start to put changing rooms and other facilities around it then it starts to be an urban development. Do you think the PPG makes it clear as to how that issue should be addressed?
  (Mr Coleman) No, it does not, and I think that is an inbuilt difficulty of all change, not just things that require planning permission, in urban fringe and Green Belt areas. Our answer to that, and it comes back really to the strategy point but it is slightly broader than the sport and recreation strategy point, is that planning authorities must take a much stronger view, with community participation, as to the kind of environment, landscape, they want in those areas, and there is the possibility to develop much more meaningful, much more practical visions of the kind of landscape that people want in the urban fringe, and we have examples in our Community Forest programme, which can then be adopted as supplementary planning guidance and have the force of agreed by the community planning statement. And that is the better way to resolve what are these extremely micro-scale decisions, I quite take the point, of golf courses as well as football pitches, and so on.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence. Thank you.

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