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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 114 - 119)




  114. Good morning. Can I welcome you to the second session of our inquiry into sport, open spaces and recreation, and can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
  (Mr Elliot) My name is Martin Elliot from Leeds City Council.
  (Ms Hennessey) Clare Hennessey from the Greater London Authority.
  (Mr Meigh) David Meigh from the City of York Council.

  115. Do any of you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Ms Hennessey) It might useful if I set the scene a little bit because we have not produced a memorandum to the Committee so it might be useful to say who we are. I am a senior planner at the Greater London Authority working on the Mayor's spatial development strategy or London Plan as we like to call it. I am currently involved in drafting the Mayor's open space policies for inclusion in the London Plan. The GLA was established 15 months ago and it covers the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. It has a directly elected Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and a separately elected assembly which is currently coming to the end of its own scrutiny on green space issues in London. The Mayor is responsible for the strategic planning in London. The duties include the creation of a special development strategy which sets the framework for the boroughs' unitary development plans. The Mayor is also a statutory consultee in planning applications of strategic importance, many of which include development on open spaces. The SDS will contain the Mayor's policies which he will use to assess planning applications which are reported in for his consideration and he may use his powers to direct refusal on planning applications which he feels are contrary to current regional planning guidance and, once the spatial development strategy has been agreed, anything that is contrary to that. We are working towards drafting open space policies which provide a much stronger framework for the protection of open space in London and promote a balanced assessment of the value of open space relative to other land uses. We are also aiming to target improvements in investment in specific areas of deficiency. To assist with that we are producing a supplementary guide for London boroughs to use in preparing open space strategies. In summary, we are here to assist you in this very important opportunity to share our experience of how the national guidance has been working to date. We have to have regard to the national policy context and we are also responsible for ensuring that the strategic planning interests of London as a whole are taken into account in the policies and decisions of central government.

Mrs Ellman

  116. This is to Leeds City Council. From your evidence you are not very impressed with the PPG17's approach to open space. What do you think it should say?
  (Mr Elliot) In terms of open space as a whole or the difference between formal and informal open space?

  117. Informal open space.
  (Mr Elliot) I did feel that the PPG maybe had an over-emphasis on the formalised use of open space and a demonstration that a formal recreational activity was to take place on there because it is very easy to make the step from a formal recreational activity to value in terms of numbers of games played on the particular open space and numbers of participants involved in using that open space. Where I felt the PPG was lacking was in its approach to both informal open space and the casual uses that occur on it. This goes back to the problem that a lot of planning authorities are facing at the moment in general in terms of ascribing qualitative indicators to best value and coming up with figures to indicate what is good design, what is good urban regeneration, what is value in open space. These are quite elusive questions and to be asked to justify a need and a value is very difficult because you are dealing with lots of different indicators like how people view open space personally in terms of the sense of place that it gives an area or in terms of how businesses view open space in terms of the attractiveness it provides for an area in terms of where they want to invest. What the PPG should perhaps set out is ways in which either we can quantify those elusive elements of what makes open space important for people that are not using it for formal activities or it should set out that this value can be demonstrated in other ways. My leisure services colleagues in a separate department—I work in the planning department—have just conducted a best value review. They came up against the problem of how you ascribe quantitative indicators to open space. They came up with some indicators such as business support: numbers of businesses who actually pointed to the fact that open space improved the image of the area, the number of businesses who actually pointed to the confidence and feeling of prosperity that open space gave to these, numbers of businesses who were prepared to sponsor events on pieces of open space, numbers of "towns in bloom" competitions that go on within Leeds, the percentage of people who feel safer within the local area as a result of open space works being carried out. This all ties in with the natural policing that can occur through open space, designing out crime in new developments. These are all quite elusive categories I feel which need to be tackled but the PPG to my mind seems to concentrate on formal sports use. The other way in which this could perhaps be tackled is through greater community involvement and I would see open space as a very appropriate catalyst also for involving the community and I think it is best if local authorities go out and involve the community in how they want to see their open space developed. If they are not using open space why are they not using it? What would make it more usable? Using open space as an issue to engage communities and to produce methods of capacity building in communities on the back of open space discussions can be quite worthwhile to fulfil the community planning agenda, for example. This also would tie in with wider regeneration aims, I am sure. What I would suggest is that the PPG gives some elaboration on what it means by value. You talk about protecting open space if it has a value. I think maybe you should expand on that and say what that value could mean to different people in terms of sense of place and that that value does not necessarily mean formal sports use. It could mean walking the dog, it could mean informal children's play. It could mean a view.

  118. What would you say your experience in Leeds could tell us about the use of open space, recreation generally, in regeneration?
  (Mr Elliot) Leeds has been quite proactive in terms of its use of open space for regeneration. There are examples of former collieries, for example, Allerton Bywater, for example, which was made into a linear country park, and similarly the Rothwell colliery was formed into a country park as well. I think that shows that out of changing economic circumstances can come regeneration through open space. Recently, as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund two historic parks in Leeds bid for monies for open space improvements: Kirkstall, surrounding the Abbey, and Roundhay Park. My leisure service colleagues did the bid but as part of the bid the linkages have to be made between open space and social inclusion and this was done by the proximity that both Roundhay and Kirkstall have to neighbouring wards which are socially deprived and areas of deprivation. Roundhay Park, for example, holds the annual Asian mela, so those linkages were quite strong and we could prove that Roundhay Park and Kirkstall Park did foster social inclusion and regeneration. Also, within the new Harehills regeneration project that is in its inaugural stages at the moment, the civic architect is placing great importance on the promotion of what are called pocket parks in Harehills.

Mr Betts

  119. I should like to ask Leeds about authority standards of measurements and how the authority approaches things and probably similar points to York as well. In 1991 the PPG17's approach was not to lay down national standards but to ask local authorities to draw up a local assessment of needs and requirements in their area. The thing that came across from your submission was that perhaps you are content that the government are not trying to impose local assessments but you want something stronger on standards. What seems to have happened over the last ten years is that very few local authorities have gone for local assessments. There is very little evidence of it, probably a small minority, about ten per cent. What they have done is simply cling to other probably rather out of date national standards like the National Playing Fields Association standards. Do you think that is going to change with the new edition of the PPG or should it change?
  (Mr Meigh) I am sorry. I am not sure which of us you wish to answer that.

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