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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



Mrs Dunwoody

  140. That is a very revolutionary idea. You will probably be asked to leave your job.
  (Mr Elliot) I think you have to accommodate the desires of children to play in the street, in parks, but what we do have a duty to do is to provide spaces that children can say, "Yes, that is mine. It belongs to me."
  (Mr Meigh) We have formal play areas for children, informal areas and then teenager areas. With regard to the formal playgrounds we have audited what we have across the city, both City Council provided and non-council provided, but a number of trusts, parish councils, town councils have provided facilities. We do quite well nationally on the performance indicators in terms of number of playgrounds but we are quite poor in their quality against the NPFA standards. We have recently done the best value audit review and members have tried to put this into an improvement programme. That is one side. Whether I get the resources or not I do not know yet. We are now bidding on the council capital programme round. We have always suffered from being a discretionary service. That is something I would challenge as to whether we could increase the standard dramatically. As to informal play for children, younger teenagers, we have had problems in defining what an area is for. We have problems with kickabouts. I am sure your constituents have raised it before. People perceive an area of open space to be one thing and young people perceive it as another thing. That is something we are trying to work out with the communities, to get that land designated by the local community as to what it is for. Older teenagers have been missed by York, to be fair. We are trying to respond to the craze of skateboarding of late but it is not something that has been addressed systematically.

Mr Cummings

  141. Can I address my first question to the Greater London Authority? The draft provision of PPG17 quite rightly stresses the importance of ensuring that open spaces are of high quality. Can you tell us how the GLA is attempting to improve the quality of existing and new open spaces?
  (Ms Hennessey) In the London context it is a real challenge and we have a massive uneven distribution of open space across London with areas like Richmond where 38 per cent of the borough is covered by open space whereas in Kensington and Chelsea we barely scrape three per cent. Added to that we have huge disparities in terms of the quality of provision across London. The most important thing for us is that we are realistic about what we can achieve. We have to work within the finite capacity of open space that we have at the moment. There are going to be few opportunities for creating large new open spaces within London. It is true to say that the majority of opportunities are going to come through new development opportunities and to that end the use of Section 106 agreements to secure new open space is going to be very important. The types of sources of open space that we have been thinking about, and we have again to think quite creatively here, are things like private sports grounds, which are often lost to development although they offer a very valuable opportunity to create new public spaces. We have former highways and rail lands, utilities lands which in London has provided a very important source of open space. For example, we have got a new wetland area in Barnes which was formerly an area of reservoirs. We have gravel and landfill sites as well. On the use of Section 106 agreements, we are very interested in exploring the potential for commuted payments from developments, recognising that not all buildings and sites in London will offer the opportunity to create new open spaces, but that it may be possible to secure a payment which could be put into a pot and used to either create new open spaces or improve existing open spaces. Aside from creating new open spaces there is a lot of work to be done in improving our existing open spaces. We have neglect manifest in all sorts of ways: litter, graffiti, closure of public facilities, and we look to some of the Lottery funding sources that are available to us at the moment to improve our open spaces, but also again we are interested in exploring more funding through Section 106 agreements.

  142. But how would you actually physically improve the quality of existing and new open spaces? We are all well aware of the problems surrounding the issue but what is the way forward?
  (Ms Hennessey) As a strategic authority we have limited powers to enable us to intervene.

  143. What can you do?
  (Ms Hennessey) What we can do is provide a very strong strategic framework for London boroughs to work within and facilitate the work that they do by pointing to good practice and ensuring that they are well aware of all the funding opportunities which are available to them.

  144. So having developed the strategy you are then really relying upon the various boroughs to take it on board?
  (Ms Hennessey) We have to because we do not have the funding resources or the powers given to us to enable us to directly intervene in the work which is really the responsibility of the boroughs but, as I say, we can facilitate the work.

  145. Why are the boroughs not developing their own strategy?
  (Ms Hennessey) A strategy for recreation enhancement?

  146. Yes.
  (Ms Hennessey) Again it goes back to this issue about this type of research being very resource intensive. As my colleague from York has said, the provision of open space is a discretionary service and so they have been operating in a very under-resourced environment. I feel that the role of the GLA is to try and enable boroughs to use their resources in the most effective way.

Sir Paul Beresford

  147. Would it be fair to say that most of them are, whether they call it a strategy or not, looking at their parks, their playgrounds, their recreation facilities regularly?
  (Ms Hennessey) Yes.

  148. Just because they do not agree with you does not mean they are not looking at it.
  (Ms Hennessey) It is quite a consensus environment that we are working in actually. I would not say there is disagreement on this issue.


  149. But there is a huge variation, is there not, between the quality of parks in some parts of London and other parts?
  (Ms Hennessey) Absolutely.

Mr Cummings

  150. Can I address this question to Leeds and York City Councils? To what extent does the Department of York City Council responsible for grounds maintenance contribute to the setting and implementation of planning policies relating to open space and how has their input affected either your planning policies or the implementation of them?
  (Mr Meigh) The fact that I am here is probably a demonstration that there is good co-operation between the two sections on the leisure side of things. We are in the middle of the green belt review. My planning colleague cannot be here today because he is meeting our councillors to agree a way forward on some of the new standards, so it is joint working as part of the green belt review. How it will affect it in the long term I do not know yet.

  151. Who will be responsible for monitoring progress?
  (Mr Meigh) That will be a joint responsibility.

  152. Who would come back to this Committee in, say two years' time, and give us an answer?
  (Mr Meigh) I suspect it will be me.

  153. So your department will be responsible for collating the information?
  (Mr Meigh) Yes. We manage and pay for the maintenance of large areas within York. We have started to produce a strategy. We have just come out of the best value review which has set up other objectives for the improvement and management of open space, so there is a very active interest from the leisure services department in future provision, quality of what goes on, where it is, etc.

  154. So would you be monitoring yourselves?
  (Mr Meigh) Yes, and advising members accordingly.

Mrs Dunwoody

  155. Sounds like the ideal arrangement to me.
  (Mr Meigh) I report to an executive spokesman for leisure and heritage who monitors me.
  (Mr Elliot) Within Leeds we have established an interdepartmental working group which we call GIG, Greenspace Implementation Group. What that does is to bring together representatives of departments that have an active role in the provision and maintenance of green space in Leeds. Planning have chaired this group, leisure services attend. We have representatives of education and community planning and regeneration. We have two elements. We have main GIG, which is the strategic approach, and site specific GIG, which is implementation of green space projects on the ground. What this does is marry together various sources of funding within the district with implementation of green space projects. A lot of the funding comes off the back of Section 106 monies, which is why I was interested in what Clare was saying because Leeds City Council predominantly uses Section 106 monies for provision of these spaces but also uses it for enhancement for green space.


  156. What I still do not understand is, you have been talking about wanting to set standards and you are saying really that you have slightly higher standards than the National Playing Fields Standards, so you have in the plan a whole lot of land that is designated.
  (Mr Elliot) Yes.

  157. But you do not have the money to look after and make sure that that amount of land is good open space. How do you marry up those two targets? One is to put it in the plan and the other is to make sure that you have got the money to make it any good.
  (Mr Elliot) It is a delicate balance between quality and quantity.

  158. Are you telling me that there is sufficient money to make all the green space that you have got in the existing plan good green space?
  (Mr Elliot) At the moment I would say no. I would say obviously our resources are limited.

  159. Can you justify wanting more space if you cannot afford to maintain the existing space?
  (Mr Elliot) Because within our green space standards that we have, once the hierarchy or the threshold is reached then we would look to improve the quality of green spaces and not the quantity of them and we would look for that off the back of Section 106 monies.

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