Examination of Witness (Questions 200
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
200. Should it be a requirement for local authorities
to have an Open Space Strategy and, if it is, should it be a PPG
or delivered in some other way? What do you think should be in
it? If I could add a further rider to that; how do you respond
to a cynical observation that local authorities are not exactly
short of strategies anyway?
(Mr Barber) Here again we have the problem that we
do not have a national agency. I am sure many witnesses in this
inquiry have said that one of the problems with this document
is that it is overloaded towards sport. Sport is mentioned ten
times more than parks, Sport England is mentioned 17 times in
the document while English Nature and English Heritage are not.
It is really pushed right over on the edge on that. I need to
return to your question.
201. What would an Open Space Strategy look
(Mr Barber) There is a lot of guidance on sports provision
for local authorities. Nobody can beat Sport England on the way
they influence both government and local government. The problem
is that we have not got an agency which can give sound guidance
on the development of green space strategies. Fortunately, quite
a lot of the best authorities have got them and, very interestingly,
although this is a process that has only just started, the Audit
Commission's Best Value Inspectorates are finding that those authorities
which get the higher rating for what they have got (and also,
incidentally, tend to get the highest ratings on their opportunities
to improve or their likelihood of improvement) are those that
have a proper strategy.
202. Are you suggesting that local authorities
need a mentor in order to construct their strategy?
(Mr Barber) Yes they do. At the end of the day where
are the strategists trained? How are they qualified? Who is giving
the support to them in the way that Sport England or the Countryside
Agency would give? This is a real loss and it has got to be built
up. In other words, there is a basic lack of intelligence within
local authorities, and certainly in government, as to how this
203. Intelligence in the sense of no information?
(Mr Barber) It is only partly about information. I
think it is also how you use the information which is a key issue
here. I think my starting point for both would be two principles
which I had hoped would come out much more strongly in the PPG.
The first is the importance of seeing the overall landscape. Landscape
is one of the great gifts that we have in Britain and it infuses
our art, our music, we name our regions after landscapes, it is
terribly important to us. Landscape is a concept which should
be enshrined in what planners do. If you are going to make spaces
into places you have to have an understanding of landscape, and
this is not well-understood. My understanding, from the last inquiry
I attended of this Committee when the question was posed to the
Government Minister, is that there are not any landscape professionals
among the 15,000 staff they have, so I do not know where it starts.
The other isand there is only a hint of this in the whole
of the PPGto see the green space of a town or city as part
of that entity and see it as a green space system.
204. You are suggesting that there should be
another independent body, not English Nature, not Sport England,
to advise local authorities on how to construct their strategies,
another super-strategy body? Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Barber) In all of those bodies, helping and supporting
strategies and proposing standards is only a part of their work.
I am quite sure that the decline that has taken place in green
spaces that are managed by local authorities would not have been
anything like as severe if the equivalent of a Sport England or
a Countryside Agency had been at work. Indeed, they were encouraging
local authorities to spend money on other things when they should
have been investing it in what benefits more people. There is
an imbalance. I am not saying that "quango land" is
the greatest system of governance. I am saying that in Britain
these quangos are very good, intelligent, well-funded bodies which
have contributed very substantially to government policy and to
local authority action and management. If we have one area and
one area alone that is missing, we have a problem, and this is
a black hole. I am saying if there are 150,000 hectares of the
stuff and it is in the urban areas. You have got to look at the
value of that. This is the evangelist thing I try to preach wherever
people will hear it, as I am sure you will appreciate. The basics
are about the economy and the success of towns and cities and
this is what an urban renaissance is. This green space component
is not yet properly locked into that process. I have high hopes
for the Urban Green Spaces Task Force. I think you know from the
written evidence we gave that the Urban Green Spaces Task Force
never got a smell of this guidance before it was published. It
simply came out of left field when we had hardly started our work.
205. Can we move away from the ground strategy
and concentrate on something you identify in your evidence, the
problem of management of green spaces, which you condemn very
much in the document. What can the planning system do to improve
management of existing as well as future urban space?
(Mr Barber) I think the main thingand interestingly
in one or two paragraphs the PPG does start to get to grips with
it, paras 38 and 39is to recognise the inter-dependency.
An awful lot of the planning function is to determine what third
parties can or cannot do with their property. When you are talking
about green spaces, parks or whatever, you are talking about land
which is actually in the ownership and management of the same
authorities that are planning for it. I think you have got to
recognise that there is an inter-dependency. The other is that
quality is absolutely so important and so all these standards,
like 400 metres from a space of this size and 800 metres from
a slightly bigger space, are just a banality that planners talk
to planners, unless you invest it with a quality dimension.
206. But how is that going to be done? We are
aware of the issue. Exactly how is it going to be done in the
(Mr Barber) I think personally that both the planning
authority and the land managing authority should be working much
closer together and sharing common information. If, as in many
authorities, neither of them has a clear idea of how people actually
use these various green spaces, what they value highest and what
they value least, then it is very difficult to say it is planning.
In fairness, this document is starting to hint at that, that local
authorities need an assessment of the value of all kinds of open
space and not just for sport. Unfortunately, they manage to undo
that completely by turning out a spurious document at the same
time which goes under the name of "Partial Regulatory Impact
Assessment", which to you and me means "what are the
resource implications of this planning policy guidance?"
and it is trying to tell us that it is all cost neutral, when
what we know is that the planning authorities and the managing
authorities working alongside green space, for the most part,
do not have the basic plan information because they do not know
how people use these spaces.
207. What should be in PPG17 or other parts
of the planning system which will make better management of existing
as well as new space?
(Mr Barber) Remove the ambiguity in paragraph 38.
It is not just about recreational facilities, this is something
that affects all green spaces, and to recognise that it is a crucial
issue because here is the true value. Also the scope for improving
the quality of existing green spaces is far greater and likely
to be more beneficial than anything you can do in planning by
adding green spaces. It is not where the emphasis should be.
208. Mr Barber, you heard the previous witnesses
and you know what they really said to you isI paraphrase"we
are so terrified somebody is going to have a go at us about not
having decided our green spaces properly, particularly a developer,
that we are looking for nice, neat rules that we can quote if
we get a planning inquiry." How do you give them enough confidence
to get beyond that?
(Mr Barber) The planning inquiry business and appeals
and so on is dictating rather too much. I want planners to plan,
first of all, rather than constantly having their minds on who
is going to catch them out because I do not think we do very well
when it comes to that. I think the difficulty is that planning
and management has not come together as closely as it does in
other countries. In Germany you would find that the planning and
management of recreational green spaces of all types is much more
informed and working much closer together. Whether, as a result
of that, you would produce planning policy guidance of this type,
or indeed planning policy guidance at all, is another proposition.
I am looking forward to seeing this Green Paper on planning because
part of the problem and why we have this difficulty is the planning
system itself. After 50 years of the British post-War planning
system it is no wonder we need an urban renaissance.
209. What we are looking for here is how the
draft PPG 17 should be changed to deal with these issues.
(Mr Barber) My personal preference would be to scrap
it and write it again.
210. What would it then say? Can I ask you specifically
what is your interpretation of paragraph 62 of PPG 17 in relation
to the commuting of maintenance payments for off-site open space?
We have been told by the witnesses there is some ambiguity in
that paragraph. What do you think it means? What does it means
in terms of the ability of councils to seek commuted maintenance
sums for maintaining off-site open spaces?
(Mr Barber) I think that one problem of over- reliance
on the Section 106 agreements is how you make that work for smaller
developments in smaller areas. If urban regeneration works along
the Rogers line that is going to get more difficult. I think everybody
can feel that it should not just trip over a threshold and suddenly
106 kicks in and you get a piece of open space with the development.
It has got to work a little bit more like a tax on the development,
if you like, so that new development contributes to the green
space system as a whole. I think you will find that in a number
of other countries they are using that rather broader principle
rather than trying to make 106 do more than probably Section 106
can do in law. It would not surprise me if a lot of developers
asked the question "Why do you want six acres for the 1,000
people I am housing when the last six acres I gave you is so poorly
211. Does not the current PPG17 address that
issue? If not, what do you think it should say?
(Mr Barber) In a way I am giving up the ghost on PPG17.
I think this is planners talking banalities to planners.
212. Give me an example of something specifically
in it to address this issue of maintenance of space.
(Mr Barber) The question is would that come in a planning
guidance or some other form of guidance?
213. Tell us where it should be.
(Mr Barber) What I am trying to do is avoid saying
that PPG17 set up under the present British planning system should
somehow be the vehicle for everything you want to do on management,
maintenance and improvement of open green space.
214. On the specific issue of the on-going maintenance
of space, what do you think should be done in terms of the planning
process, whether in PPG17 or anywhere else?
(Mr Barber) There should be less reliance on 106 and
I think this Section ought to be exploring the other options.
One of the problems, I think, with Section 106 is that it is socially
divisive as well. I was in Basingstoke a week or two ago and I
was amazed at just how many community facilities they are getting
through 106 agreements, it is very impressive. Their only worry
is how they are going to maintain it all when they have got it.
It is not because they are great planners in Basingstoke. It is
simply because this is either a buyers' or a sellers' market.
If the developers want to develop in Basingstoke and they have
got these ideas for community facilities they will go along with
it because there is still profit there and they still want to
do it. How does this play in places like Salford? It is not the
same thing at all. Section 106 and reliance on that as being not
only the means of providing open space but funding it by commuted
sums is extraordinarily divisive because the poorer places, the
places that need an urban renaissance most, do not have that opportunity.
215. You referred to the Partial Regulatory
Impact Assessment and the question of whether it was going to
cost any more money. You are suggesting that a bit more money
ought to be put into the PPG17 process. Are you sure about that?
Would it not be better to keep money out of the planning system
and put it into maintaining parks and open spaces?
(Mr Barber) I think so, chair. I very much agree with
that because it gets back to my point that it is rather over-rating
the effect of the planning system on the improvement of open space
when most of it is existing, will be there in 20 years' time,
and the one thing that we all have to faceand your previous
inquiry facedis that in that space of a generation between
our generation and the previous one, a great decline has taken
place. PPGs and planning guidance are not going to be able to
address that problem. You did that much more ably in your previous
inquiry than you can force PPG17 to do. I have got criticisms
of this document as it stands, but it may be that a lot of my
criticisms are because of the system itself and way these things
have to be shoe horned into planning policy guidance to be effective.
I would like to see the Green Paper on Planning address this.
The problem is I do not know who they are going to get to write
216. Can I take you on to the question of improving
open spaces. Our understanding is that best value inspections
of local authority parks and ground maintenance services suggest
that a significant proportion of parks and open spaces are unlikely
to improve. Why is that and what can we do about it? "Unlikely
to improve" does not feel like good enough.
(Mr Barber) The interesting thing is that it is the
authorities which have got the lowest rating, a one-star rating
(which is quite poor) which are the ones that are most often judged
to be least likely to improve, whilst the ones that are good are
the ones that are most likely to improve. I think it is simply
that the management is better. In what ways I do not know, and
I do not know how much you want to go into that, but one of the
things that does seem to be influential is whether they have got
a comprehensive strategy or not, so whether it is in a PPG17 or
otherwise, I think the biggest reinforcement for best value (and
what this Committee has been concerned with so often in the state
of green spaces) is to have really comprehensive strategies. It
would be nice to see PPG17 leading into that instead of, as it
does, mentioning locking into other local government strategies,
but only talks about current recreational, educational and cultural
strategies. It does not talk about landscape strategies, green
space strategies, parks and open spaces strategies, or whatever
you want to call them. Again I think that is something of a missed
217. I take it that you disagreed when we heard
from one of the three previous witnesses his view that local authorities
should be the core managers of open spaces? I would interpret
from what you are saying that you would not necessarily think
that is a particularly good idea?
(Mr Barber) I think local authorities should have
the prime responsibility and in fairness to their history nobody
has done more to provide high quality green spaces in the urban
environment than the local authorities. They got the legislation
and built parks and so on.
218. But you are saying they are not very good
(Mr Barber) They are not very good at it because they
have lost the plot. If you look at what happened in Victorian
times it was done for health reasons under the Health Acts. We
seem to have lost sight of the fact that personal health and fitness
is supported far more by having a good environment than trying
to cure the problem at the other end with ever spiralling medical
costs. It is the economic equations that seem to me to be wrong.
The other thing that the park builders knew was that good parks
put value on land. Birkenhead Park, which is generally reckoned
to be about the first fully municipal park, was paid for because
of the properties that were built around it. I know Rogers is
advocating Georgian square type buildings as being more effective.
There is a relationship between good quality green spaces and
values, not just on house prices but on the total asset value
of our towns and cities, which really needs a lot more investigation
in my view.
219. I would like to return to what you mentioned
earlier which was the relationship between planners and the leisure
departments, where so often you get the case of planners negotiating
106 agreements that can be very costly that their colleagues in
the leisure department then have to pick up. Do you think that
issues like working practices within departments should be contained
in planning guidance? If not, how do you forge these closer, better
relationships between planners?
(Mr Barber) Generally speaking, I am not in favour
of central government telling local government how to do its business.
I think the best open spaces in the network that we enjoy today
have been created by stronger local authorities who did not depend
on government telling them what to do. They went to Parliament
for the legislation they wanted and got on with the job. I would
like to see a return to that. There is no doubt about itand
I think your earlier inquiry saw thisthat an awful lot
of knowledge and intelligence that ought to be there in local
authorities is missing. This is not to be divisive between planners
and managers because there is no doubt in my mind that we need
much better managers and green space landscape management training
in order to manage these systems holistically. There are two stepping
stones to this. One is what this Committee has already advocated,
and that is there should be a national agency that can promote
all of this. The other is that if we are prepared to experiment
with things like elected mayors and so on to shake local government
up a bit, why cannot we have what some very successful cities
haveVancouver and Minneapolis come to mindwhere
the green spaces are managed by a separate authority but nevertheless
a democratic one, one that is elected. You have got some good
models in this country. I cannot hold Milton Keynes up as a model
of anybody's idea of sustainable urban development but at the
end of the day Milton Keynes' Parks Trust is very good as a model.
They are funded by a part of the substantial asset base of Milton
Keynes and it works, I think very well, because the management
and the funding is more dedicated than it is in a typical large