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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-113)



Dr Pugh

  100. Briefly on this, I think I share some of your concerns about imposing national standards right across the board. I think what we are observing is there is no guidance on providing for young people and teenagers, and some guidance I think would be very helpful in terms of brokering local 106 agreements with developers. And would you not regard it, if I can possibly take you back, as one of the sort of omissions of the paper that it does not actually mention young people and teenagers?
  (Mr Ellis) Yes, I think good practice guidance is important. Certainly, it is something we are considering at the moment as to whether or not we support the policy in the PPG with a good practice guidance that will help deliver the policy, bringing together, if you like, what is out there already; not setting a particular way forward but drawing together what has been good practice, to actually help local authorities come to a view locally as to what is right. The focus of the PPG is on all the needs in the community. I do not think it rules out any section of that community; or, as you were saying, specifically by name, by description, rules in a particular section of the community. If it would be helpful to do so, it is something that we can obviously think about. In my view, it is important that local authorities think about the needs of all their population, from the very youngest children through to the oldest in the communities. That is why we look at sport, open space and recreation together, because there is a demand from the community, which can be different, which can actually change as one moves from childhood through the teenage years to somewhat older. It is important the local authority, in planning for its community, thinks about all its community.

Ms King

  101. Obviously, one size never fits all. In Tower Hamlets, a lot of people feel virtually under siege by gangs of teenagers. If you are saying that you are not going to give specific guidance to local authorities, what are the signposts that you might be giving them, which you mentioned?
  (Mr Ellis) What I meant to say, it was in the PPG we do not want to actually lose sight of the policy by including specific guidance on particular issues which is better placed in a good practice guide. The Government is very keen to ensure that the planning system plays its part in designing out crime, designing in community safety. We are committed, through the Urban White Paper, to deliver updated planning guidance on the sort of issue that you have mentioned, to indeed be supported by good practice guidance. We want to ensure that local authorities, in drawing up their planning policies, and in actually looking at applications in the context of development control, take proper account of crime, of community safety. And we will issue good practice guidance to actually help them to demonstrate what can work, so they do not make a situation worse.


  102. But I thought the planning system was supposed to give certainty. Now supposing there is a new housing development, and as part of it the local authority says, "We want a big space provided on that development for teenagers to hang out." Now that will be very attractive for the teenagers to hang out, it will not be very popular with the people who are going to buy the houses closest to it. Surely, the people buying the houses should have that certainty, when they buy them, that next to or near to their houses there is going to be a spot where teenagers are encouraged to hang out. Now that is no good putting it into the guidance, you want it actually in the planning process, do you not?
  (Mr Ellis) The guidance, Chairman, is there for application through the planning process, coming back to the development plan, and making sure we actually get the policies in that right, to be applied consistently through planning applications. You are absolutely right, it is important that there is certainty of expectation. But one of the things I had hoped good practice guidance would make clear, in supporting the Government's policy for planning out crime, is that the way you design new development can either design in problems or design out problems. If you are actually going to organise your hang-out space right next to the sort of housing, for example, sheltered accommodation, which would cause aggravation, you have got to get the design right.

  Chairman: I think most people would guess that it would not be best next to the sheltered accommodation; on the other hand, they would probably make less fuss than some people.

  Christine Russell: Chairman, I was also going to ask about hang-out shelters, and you have asked the question.


  103. Very quickly, now. First of all, you have heard the earlier evidence from Sport England about them wanting to be called as consultees, if you get rid of smaller little areas where football can be played for the under-11s; what about that?
  (Mr Ellis) That is obviously something that we would need to ponder, that Ministers would need to think about; forgive that response to your question. Again, I come back to the issue that if the strategy is properly worked out and clearly set out in the development plan—

  104. No; they were just simply asking, can they be consultees, they are not wanting to pre-empt it, all they want to know is that that bit of ground is going to disappear as a play area, they want to assess it as to whether it is important and be consultees?
  (Mr Ellis) It can be done.

  105. It can be done, obviously, but will it be done?
  (Mr Ellis) I cannot, as you know, Chairman, commit my Ministers. They will want to balance the gains to be had from extending the consultation with the extra time it would take potentially on delivering on planning applications, delivering on planning proposals, what that extra might cause. So, as you know, I cannot actually commit my Ministers on that.

  106. Right. The English Sports Council did that document 'The Effectiveness of Planning Policy Guidance on Sport and Recreation'; it came up with a set of recommendations. You have ignored them all, have you not?
  (Mr Ellis) No. I am quite safe in saying no.

  107. That is a decisive answer.
  (Mr Ellis) Certainly, our impression, obviously it is in the eyes of the beholder, is that we have actually met, either wholly or in part, the vast majority. Perhaps if I tackle the question the other way round; which ones have we actually rejected. We rejected the recommendation that PPG17 should state the basic criteria for standards for open space; we rejected that for the reasons I have articulated this morning. We think, subject to hearing views, that this matter is best carried out at the local level. We also rejected recommendations, for example, that there should be a specific policy on, I have it written down here, golf driving ranges. We do not want to have specific policies on all the forms of recreation, sport, that we actually, as a community, participate in, because you can imagine the PPG if we did. You would never actually define the policy clearly as to the overall approach if we went down the path of having a catalogue.

  108. New Opportunities Fund. It has not really come up with much money, has it, for enhancing green spaces?
  (Ms Drew) You would not expect me to make a comment on the quantum of money, but it is not a bad sum of money for New Opportunities green spaces, they have got £125 million; it all depends on what kind of context you are talking about. But £125 million is £125 million, I would not say it was a particularly mean sum.

  109. Do you think it has been well spent?
  (Ms Drew) I would not be able to comment on how the New Opportunities Fund acts; they are an independent Lottery distributor.

  110. I did not ask you what they would say, I was just asking you whether you thought it was well spent?
  (Ms Drew) I am not in a position to comment about how it is being spent at the moment. The division of it, perhaps I can just make a comment, as Sport England said, they are award partners with the New Opportunities Fund, and they are getting £31.5 million as an award partner, some of which can go towards, for example, helping local authorities prepare playing-field strategies. So that is an example, it seems to me, of a very valuable use of that money; £10.5 million goes towards the purchase of new playing-fields; 10.5 towards the improvement of existing playing-fields. Again, I would have thought, admirable objectives in themselves.

  111. Home Zones, as far as children's play is concerned, are they any substitute for proper open space for children?
  (Mr Ellis) I think they are complementary. I think it very much depends upon where you are in your childhood. I can certainly, if I might think personally, see advantages for my youngest child of a Home Zone. It means they can actually go outside safely and play with their friends there. I worry less about the effect of traffic on them. My elder boy has an ability to kick a football. I would see Home Zones potentially being dangerous there for my neighbours' windows. I certainly feel in that case that we are looking for the proper facility of wider open space. So it is a case of a mixed portfolio for the advantage of the community, I would have thought, Chairman.

  112. As a child, I managed to play both football and cricket in the street, cricket with a 'corky'; there was no problem, or there was not a serious problem, with the neighbours' windows. But, today, the number of cars that would be parked in a Home Zone would just make it impossible, would it not?
  (Mr Ellis) I think that would depend, in part, on the design of the Home Zone. I think it is important that we actually think of the contribution Home Zones make to creating a place where communities grow, rather than always thinking about our streets as thoroughfares for traffic. I think it is important that in designing new places where we live we think more constructively about how we actually design for the motorcar. And that indeed, Chairman, is the thrust of PPG3, where the emphasis is to design around the needs of people and not around the needs of vehicular traffic.

  113. Finally, do you think the planning system has made any contribution to the fiasco of the national football stadium, or the national athletics stadium?
  (Mr Wilkes) Not yet!

  Chairman: Well, on that very cheery note, thank you very much for your evidence.

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