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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



Mr Cummings

  160. Could you give a practical example of where this has actually worked?
  (Mr Elliot) In terms of taking money off new development to improve green space rather than provide it?

  161. By everyone coming together as you indicated in the community, getting round the problems and pointing in a particular direction, can you give the Committee any indication whether you have had a successful outcome?
  (Mr Elliot) Personally no. It goes on all the time. We are dealing with the green space provision on a day to day basis. I deal with it largely from the strategic side. I do not necessarily deal with the implementation.

  162. Could you give an indication to the Committee where you have had a very positive effect upon your planning policies or indeed the implementation of your planning policies?
  (Mr Elliot) I think the implementation of planning policies has a positive effect right the way across the district. The problems where it occurs is that if you are tying provision of open space to new development, those areas of the district where new development does not occur, which coincidentally are likely to be the areas of the district which suffer the most in terms of paucity of green space, how you get monies into those areas.

Mrs Ellman

  163. The Government has a target of settling 80 per cent of planning applications within eight weeks. What impact does that have on open space as part of planning decisions?
  (Mr Meigh) I am not aware that it is giving us particular problems because a lot of the ground work has been done in advance. Developments I have been asked to comment on and my colleagues in leisure have been asked to comment on about the suitability of location, size of open space within any new development, normally come to us before a formal planning application is submitted.

  164. So it does not produce any problems?
  (Mr Meigh) I would be wrong to say it does not produce any problems but in the main I have not encountered a great deal of problems. Quite often the development has been referred back to the developers for fine tuning or re-landscaping as part of wider concerns about the development rather than just open space, immediate impact on traffic flows ora particular style of development.

  165. Concluding the Section 106 agreements where there is perhaps some dispute over them, does it help or hinder there?
  (Mr Meigh) I have mixed experience of contractors paying up on time for things that they have signed up to do as part of 106 agreements. Fortunately the scheme I am referring to does not give us a problem. Cash flow is not a problem yet but this is part of a larger scheme, the restoration of our flagship park, so it does not really give us a problem yet, but it would be disappointing if that did not come in within the timescale agreed on the scheme.

  166. And Leeds? What is your experience?
  (Mr Elliot) As a planning obligation green space is actually one of the simpler and easier planning obligations that Leeds requests. We have far more problems with affordable housing than we do with green space. We are well used to planning green space. We have an SPG which requires it in association with new housing development. That has been around since 1998. It has become quite ingrained now so we do not have much problem, so allmost from inception 106 payments and agreements are quite close. We have a specific project officer who looks at this and so we do not find much of a problem in terms of securing them.

Sir Paul Beresford

  167. Would you think the eight week target has forced local authorities and developers to start talking and negotiating early in contrast to the attitude prior to the eight weeks?
  (Mr Elliot) It depends what you are negotiating. If you are negotiating green space developers are quite amenable to hat. If you are negotiating affordable housing which has more severe impact on the value of the development, developers are more likely to leave it to the last moment in some cases and say that the development goes ahead or it does not depending whether affordable housing is in it or not.

Dr Pugh

  168. Can we focus in on the PPG17 because it encourages planning authorities to use these Section 106 agreements to get better provision and maintenance of open space? Section 106 you have more or less said is critical. Section 106's can be used to enhance existing open spaces or community facilities and the like. Have any particularly imaginative examples of the use of Section 106 agreements in your patch?
  (Mr Meigh) The best one in York pre-dates the current City of York Council formed in 1996 the community status on a bigger boundary. It comes from the Ryedale District Council at Earswick where the housing executive doubled the amount of public open space in the village and provided bowling greens, tennis courts and a small community centre.

Mrs Dunwoody

  169. For public use?
  (Mr Meigh) Yes. As ever, we could do with more. That was then transferred to the parish or residents' association to run so there is very little involvement from the City Council. I know that in splitting up the 106 monies it was quite fraught for my colleagues in the planning department.

  170. Are they still running?
  (Mr Meigh) Yes. It is 12 months old.

Dr Pugh

  171. Can I just press you on this business of providing facilities and more open space, whether it can be done off site or on site. I think local authorities tend to follow a conservative policy when brokering Section 106 agreements. Do you find that they are not used as aggressively or as positively as they might be?
  (Mr Elliot) I think a lot of the restrictions on Section 106 agreements actually lie within the planning obligations and the Act itself in terms of where they can be used. Leeds City Council in its attempts to try and direct monies to the inner city wards where there is severe shortage of green space try and secure 106 agreements with phrases such as "to be used within the community area or a neighbouring community area" to hopefully include some of those community areas which do not have any green space in them or have very severe shortages of green space. I think you are restricted in terms of how far across the district you can do that. Whether you are securing green space in a ward in the suburbs to use in the inner city, for example, is not possible. You would have to rely on the capital programme and other opportunities for that.

  172. And you stick rigidly to the guidance that you are given in interpreting that?
  (Mr Elliot) I do not think developers would allow us to get away with them providing green space in a different area of the city even if it may not be required on their site to accord with our accessibility hierarchy. I still think the developer looks for some sort of comfort that is provided within the set defined area, so that it is some use to the people that actually use their development

  173. Retail developers increasingly are offering open space, play facilities and things like that as part of a package in order to sweeten the pill if the development itself is not universally popular. Is that a tendency you have picked up in your own areas?
  (Ms Hennessey) Certainly there has been an example in the London context in Hammersmith where an existing open space was improved with funding cleared through Section 106 agreement with a retail developer.

  174. A supermarket?
  (Ms Hennessey) Yes. Certainly we are very keen to explore all the possibilities and not simply look at opportunities through new housing developments but also through commercial developments that are coming through, particularly important in the town centre environment where open space is at a premium and often of poor quality.

Mr Betts

  175. One point worries me slightly. Referring to the example of quite expensive executive housing, then the amount of planning gain you might be able to get out of that is probably quite substantial in your view than from a site for lower cost housing in the inner city, so the most that can be gained in these sorts of developments will go to areas that are already probably slightly better off anyway. Is there a problem with this form of approach?
  (Mr Meigh) I would have said so.
  (Mr Elliot) In terms of what sort of planning gain you are securing. We try and secure those obligations which meet our planned targets. Obviously within a high executive development we secure a large element of affordable housing within that anyway, but in terms of trying to marry up where the green space historically is with where the green space needs to be is something that is very difficult and which we have to try and solve through capital programmes and outside funding, the New Opportunities Fund, for example.
  (Mr Meigh) I would agree with that. For the social inclusion agenda you are restricted by where that windfall development is.

  176. There is the point about maintenance as well. Obviously the developer would reach those agreements with the possibility of committing sums to maintain a space or play areas afterwards is welcome, but some authorities have got to the point of saying, "Really we do not think even with this community itself that we want to take on this responsibility for open space or play areas because it is going to cost us more and more in the long term than we are going to get." Have you got any other ideas about how adopting open spaces and play areas could be pursued without the local authority having the responsibility? Have you got any examples of where this has been done?
  (Mr Elliot) I do not have any examples but from a purely ideological point of view I would say that local authorities are the best providers to secure and maintain open spaces. If bodies other than local authorities start maintaining and patrolling open spaces I would have doubts as to whether or not they could be secured for the wider public good. Maybe it will be a public space that did not allow cyclists or, at an extreme, public space that restricted the entry of children or a public space that restricted the entry of people that did not live in that area. I do think that local authorities are best placed to maintain and adopt and look after public spaces.
  (Mr Meigh) I am afraid I completely disagree. In York we are developing a mixed approach. We are not the sole landowner. Possibly about 70 per cent of public open space is with the authority. The remaining 30 per cent is provided by parish or town councils by a number of trusts. We are trying to concentrate on that flagship service that the City Council will run and quality for the community, low key facilities that the community is more involved with in managing and running. That depends on the community being willing to get involved. We are trying to adopt an approach where the community is a lot more involved in managing its open space.

Chris Grayling

  177. In my constituency, which has probably got more managed open spaces than any other within the M25, we have a huge diversity of people patrolling the parks because with regard to considerable local authority involvement in open spaces we have the Corporation of London which manages a quite substantial area very effectively, we have the National Trust close by which manages large open spaces very effectively. Are you saying that you do not believe that the contribution of organisations like those in the management of open spaces for the public community is good?
  (Mr Elliot) The whole multiplicity of opportunities that open spaces provide needs tying together, not just in terms of on an area basis but in terms of users themselves. If you were to enter into agreements with private providers there would need to be some sort of guarantee that the open spaces were secured and you did actually have a management plan or I think it could be secured through 106 perhaps, but there would need to be clear guidelines. Blanket dismissal of private investment in open space would appear to be unrealistic, particularly in the climate in which we live, but certainly you need to pay particular attention to how you secure and maintain them in perpetuity.

Dr Pugh

  178. The distinction between publicly owned open space and open space that is open to the public but may be in the possession of a trust. This question is aimed at York. Are you satisfied that in your area what you count as public open space is genuinely accessible in principle to the public without any restriction or possibility of restriction being imposed?
  (Mr Meigh) I do not know the exact technicality but I am sure we would not designate it as public open space if the public could not get on to it. For that reason school playing fields are not included as public open space.

  179. But where you levy a charge in principle would that still be counted as public open space? If the trust put a charge on to get into its grounds does that count as public open space as well?
  (Mr Meigh) I do not think we have any, so I do not know how we would respond. I am referring to pieces of land where you can step from one site to the other without any kind of entrance fee or controlling person on the gate as it were.

Christine Russell

  There is no basic reference in the PPG to help authorities assess requirements for the provision of amenity open space or to help them plan strategically. As we have heard, the GLA is preparing advice for the boroughs on open space strategies as required by the draft London Plan. Obviously this plan is not going to apply to either of your councils but could you tell us if you think this requirement is reasonable?

  (Mr Elliot) I think in terms of providing a rationale for protection to counter any development pressure that may arise, yes, but within a district like Leeds, and if you take the district as a whole and you make the point that there is an under-provision of open space as a whole, bearing in mind those areas that are over-provided and those areas that are under-provided, maybe you should take that approach as simply on a provision rather than as the quality of each individual open space. Maybe you should recognise the ability of people that live in areas of deficit of open space to travel, because what we have not talked about is whether or not there will ever be opportunities to improve open space in inner city areas that just do not have the land, particularly in light of PPG3 which is seeking to provide more and more housing on brownfield sites. I have no answers for this.

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