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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 66-79)




  66. Can I welcome you. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record. And I am not sure whether anyone wants to make an opening statement, or whether you are happy to go into questions?
  (Mr Ellis) Thank you, Chairman. I would like to say a few words, but first if I might introduce myself. I am Peter Ellis, Head of the Planning Policies Division in the Planning Directorate at the DTLR. On my immediate right is David Wilkes, who heads the team responsible for the emerging PPG. And on my far right is Peter Matthew, based in the Department's Urban Policy Unit, and Peter is here today as Secretary of the Green Spaces Task Force. Could I turn to my colleague, Philippa Drew, to introduce her team, from DCMS.
  (Ms Drew) I am Philippa Drew. I am the Director for Education, Training, Arts & Sport in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
  (Mr Mackenzie) Niall Mackenzie, from the Sport and Recreation Division of the DCMS.

  67. Thank you. Does anyone want to say a few words, to start with?
  (Mr Ellis) Just a few words, if I might, Chairman. You already have the Department's memorandum, which is actually focusing the content of PPG onto the main themes of your inquiry, but in the light of this morning's discussion perhaps I could just underline a couple of things. Clearly, the PPG is of fundamental importance; sport, open space and recreation all contribute to people's quality of life, and it is that quality of life we actually take as our starting-point in the PPG. PPG17 is guidance for the land use planning system on planning issues relating to those critical issues. It is concerned with land use planning's contribution to meeting a diversity of recreational needs, from formal, organised sport through to the enjoyment of local open space and the countryside. It is not guidance on how to prepare a corporate strategy on sport or open space, or recreation. It is about what land use planning can, and what land use planning should, contribute to a community's well-being in these areas. Clearly, it is absolutely vital that we get the PPG as right as we can. We accompanied the consultation by a series of questions. We asked specific questions on scope, workability and on particular issues which were key to the direction of the PPG. What is quite clear from the responses we have had, and from the comments made to you this morning, is that not everyone actually thinks we have got it entirely right. Now that is the great advantage of consultation, we test the ideas, we test the processes, before it is actually implemented. So we very much welcome, Chairman, your Committee's inquiry and we look forward to having your report on how we can improve the PPG.

  68. Thank you very much for that. The only thing just worrying me slightly, because you almost implied that if you had a football pitch which was down in the planning proposals as a football pitch, that would be perfectly alright, even if it was in such a poor state that no-one could play football on it?
  (Mr Ellis) No, I do not think that is quite right. Certainly, it was not what I was wanting to imply, Chairman. We were coming basically at the question of assessing a community's needs for sport, open space; for that particular football pitch. We have a fair amount of guidance in the PPG on that issue; it is saying that we are not just interested in quantity but in quality in carrying out the assessments of need and what a community should actually be planning for. We underline the need to think about quality, as well as count beans, because, as you were intimating, there is no point in having a facility or that potential opportunity if no-one is actually picking it up or it is not capable of being used. So it is actually important that when local planning authorities are preparing their plans they are actually assessing need, they are thinking of quality—usability—as well as just ticking the presence of that facility.

Mr Betts

  69. Let us put in one thing there seems to be general agreement about then, that there is quite a lot of disagreement about the proposals that you have produced so far. Have you already decided to take on board some of those criticisms; if so, which have you decided to take on board? And are you genuinely listening now to what else is being said?

  (Mr Ellis) Taking the batting order in reverse, yes. I think what I would actually say at the outset is that there is a lot of general support for what PPG17 is looking to achieve, there is general support for the fact that we put planning for sport, open space, recreation, at the heart of the Government's policies for sustainable development, urban renaissance and a thriving countryside. And I think there is general support for the fact that, in planning for those important areas, we are looking at all aspects of sustainable development, economic growth—the economic health of the community—social inclusion and protecting our environment. Now I think the answer to your second question is, yes, we accept there is concern about ambiguity in parts of the drafting, including a greater wish for clarity in some of the definitions we use. So, in the light of those sorts of comments, I am not wanting to sit here before you today and say the PPG is perfect in all aspects, clearly, it is not; we are working on that. That said, I think it is also fair to say that some of the adverse comment about the PPG is special-pleading from interest groups. We cannot hope to cover all the interests of particular groups in the PPG, it would become like a catalogue. The policy which we are trying to actually convey to local authorities would be lost. What the PPG does do is underline the importance of all sport, open space and recreation to the well-being of communities. And in the processes we actually set out in the PPG we underline that they should deliver across the board. The other thing, if I might be mischievous, is that what we do notice is that we get opposing viewpoints put to us in commenting on the PPG. Those who actually want to emphasise planning for sport say we have not quite emphasised that sufficiently. Those who are wanting to actually underline the importance of open space say the PPG actually fails in that aspect. So, in short, yes, we appreciate there is concern about some of the drafting. We want to ensure that in the document actually delivers effectively on the ground the policy that is set out in the PPG.

  70. Perhaps we can go through those points, because there have been some specific criticisms, and perhaps DCMS can come in and deal with one or two of them as well. One is that you said that some people feel there is too much bias towards sport and some people feel there is not enough concentration on it, but perhaps there has been more evidence given that the guidance so far has been more dominated by sporting interests, and the corollary to that is a feeling that perhaps there is not really any adequate definition of open space in the guidance, and therefore that leads to real difficulties and a lack of proper concentration on that issue. And, finally, something the DCMS might want to pick up on, a belief that there are inherent contradictions in trying to deal through one set of guidance with what are sometimes very major sporting developments, very major additions to the built environment, at the same time as you are dealing with open space, on which there might be a planning proposal to put that major sporting development. You now have inherent conflicts which simply are not dealt with in the current guidance that you are proposing?
  (Mr Ellis) I think, adding extra emphasis on open space to the document has brought some complications. But it is essential, in my opinion, that the sport, open space and recreation needs of a community are considered together. Now, clearly, there are the sorts of problems of considering them in the one guidance that we have heard this morning and in the response to the consultation. But the risk of separating them would be greater. It is essential that local authorities preparing their development plan strategies are looking at their communities' needs for these issues in the round, so that the strategy their plan then espouses is delivering in the round on these matters, rather than actually leaving the sort of conflict you are describing to be resolved on the back of a planning application, where people inevitably are at loggerheads with each other. So it is essential that we look at demands, that we look at needs.

  71. I am sorry, I do not really accept that. There is (Poole ?) Point, a piece of land in my constituency, people consider it to be an open space, it is actually zoned on the UDP for leisure; currently, it is used for leisure because football games happen on there on a Saturday afternoon and a Sunday morning, but the people who live around the area are basically content, because they have got a green field for most of the week with a few footballers on it on Saturday and Sunday. A proposal is about to come in for a major planning application for a sports centre and swimming-pool; that changes the nature of that land completely. It is therefore through the planning application that the use of that land and its impact on the local population will be dealt with, not through the UDP process but through the specific planning application that it is still leisure use; and that is a confusion in there which I do not think anything is done to resolve in this new, revised guidance?
  (Mr Ellis) If I might take us back to the development plan, because I understand entirely the sort of situation you are describing, which is generic, not just on that particular proposal. The key to ensuring that a decision is taken in the best interests of the community in the round is to ensure the planning strategy is right in the first place. And that is where the thorough assessment of need, a thorough assessment of what the community actually requires, against the land resources in that community, is so important. The plan is critical to the sensible resolution of that sort of proposal. In the absence of a sensible plan, I agree with you entirely, it makes the satisfactory outcome in the interests of the community much harder to achieve. Which is why, in the PPG, we are actually saying to local planning authorities, "Get your forward planning homework right in the first place, please, because that ensures you will get sounder planning decisions as an outcome."


  72. So, on the unitary development planning, that case, it should not just be marked up as open space but it should have a footnote to it describing what sort of open space use it should be put to?
  (Mr Ellis) If the intention is, and my colleagues will correct me if I get this wrong, Chairman, that there will be a major, built facility on that particular open space, that should be taken forward through the local plan, or the UDP preparation process, to be debated properly at the inquiry; in the light of the evidence that the local authority has assembled on need against what the community is requiring and against the land resources that are available to accommodate that sort of facility.

  Chairman: You are pulling a face; do you want to ask a further question?

Mr Betts

  73. I am not sure how precise the definitions in the UDPs are to allow this to happen; if they do not distinguish between built leisure facilities and so on?
  (Mr Wilkes) They can do. A local authority can identify a site on their development plan which clearly identifies that site as going to be developed for a particular use, and that could be a sports facility of some sort.

  74. So a truly UDP process then is the advice from the Department, or local authorities in producing their plans should distinguish between leisure with a significant built element to it, informal leisure and open space without any informal leisure of any kind; is this what you are suggesting?
  (Mr Ellis) What the plan should do is identify proposals the local authority are advocating for particular pieces of land. The plan should highlight, it should protect, those areas of open space where it does not want to see built facilities. The key to the resolution of the sort of conflict you are describing is clear forward planning, in the context of the UDP, or the local plan. So people then, the local community, can say, I'm sorry, we don't think you've got that balance right; our desire for this particular piece of open space is . . . "whatever"; but the key is proper forward planning based on proper assessment.

Dr Pugh

  75. You are well aware the Urban Green Spaces Task Force is supposed to influence the revision of the planning guidance, and you are also well aware that your memorandum intends to produce a final version of the guidance before the Task Force actually concludes its work. That is not joined-up government, is it, really?
  (Mr Ellis) The joined-upness is that we are kept closely in touch and seek to be kept closely in touch with the working of the Task Force. We are looking to ensure that the work the Task Force is going to deliver fully informs the work on the PPG.

  76. But how can you ensure that, if you have not actually got the final report at the point at which you submit the final PPG?
  (Mr Ellis) Can you talk just a bit about your Task Force?
  (Mr Matthew) I think there are two things there, Chair. The Task Force, first of all, was set up after the PPG17 revision process commenced, and I think what we have had to consider, in carrying forward the work of the Task Force, is how both the work of the Task Force integrates with the work that is going on on the planning side, and, I think, first of all, I am on the working group with my planning colleagues, who are actually looking at the PPG; so, in that context, I am, in a sense, providing that link with our planning colleagues and the work of the Task Force.

  77. But it is simply an informal link, is it not?
  (Mr Matthew) Well, I will continue. I think there are two things that we need to consider. At the time of consultation, the Task Force did consider the PPG17 issues, and representation was made to the planning team. The second thing I would say is that a working group of the Task Force has been set up to specifically look at the whole question of how we go about improving the planning, design, management and maintenance of green spaces. And, one of the things I do want to say, I do not think we are actually operating this on the basis that we will wait for final reports; there is the question of trying to track the progress of the work and pick up the emerging issues and feeding them in in that way. So I do not think necessarily it is a question of waiting for final reports.

  78. What would be the disadvantage of waiting for the final report?
  (Mr Ellis) These things are never actually easy to come to a completely right view on, because the world moves on in many ways. There are obviously important contributions to PPG17, such as that of the Task Force. What we need to ensure is that as soon as we can have a robust piece of planning guidance we get it out into the wider world to ensure that these important issues that we have all touched on this morning are being dealt with by local planning authorities properly. So there is a balance to be struck between ensuring we are properly informed and getting the guidance out as soon as we reasonably can. Hence why I underline the working relationship we have with the Task Force to ensure we are understanding what is exactly emerging from their work. If it seems, broadly speaking, the PPG, as emerging, is in the right territory and getting it right then we are going to be comfortable. If it actually seems that is not going to be the case then we will have to actually review that at that time.


  79. Mr Matthew, you said you made representations; were they successful representations?
  (Mr Matthew) I think my planning colleagues have as good an understanding as myself. But I think my planning colleagues at this stage are aware that I have got a bundle of issues, which is coming via the Task Force side, which I will want to actually take up with them in the revision to the draft. And I think the key point for me, and I think they will probably agree, is that I do not think there is a closed door, in terms of the issues and in terms of taking forward a revised draft. And, certainly, we have had a very close working relationship in ensuring that those issues are actually filtered through, and I am quite confident that that will happen.

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