Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
260. LEAPs are equipped play areas for the youngsters,
4-year-olds to 8-year-olds and NEAPs are for older children, for
the early teenagers. I think that is right and the L stands for
"Llocal". LEAPs are Local Equipped Areas for Play and
NEAPs are Neighbourhood Equipped Areas for Play. I just wonder
what your views on these new ideas are, the provision of NEAPs
and LEAPs and perhaps home zones too which is not, as I am sure
you know, the provision of play equipment but turning residential
streets over to where the priority is pedestrians rather than
motorists where it is safer for youngsters to play.
(Mr Newton) I think the provision of play facilities
for a development is a long-established principle. The nature
of that provision is an issue and if there are new standards then
we need to look at those new standards and new ideas can be taken
on board. If there is a differentiation of facilities according
to age or any other factor, it is helpful to have standards because
it provides the developer with some certainty in terms of what
it is he is expected to provide and the costs of that provision.
So the standards for children's play facilities and the provision
of playing fields are quite helpful to our members. Again, as
a Federation we want to make sure that those standards are reasonable
261. Do you find that the properties adjacent
to these play areas are the most difficult to sell? Is that a
(Mr Newton) I am not sure I have got any experience
or evidence of that.
Chairman: You build the houses, get them occupied
and slip the play areas in at at end so someone suddenly finds
out they have got a play area next to their house.
Mr Betts: And we get petitions!
262. What is the experience of the Peabody Trust?
(Mr Robinson) The first thing is to differentiate
between those two kinds of play areas because the play areas for
young children can be damaged if they become used by older children.
That means you have to also provide something for older children
and of course that is more demanding because it tends to be ball
areas and kick around areas. Those are the noisy places and that
is an issue about design, designing your development so you can
find a way of putting that play area up against a flank wall or
using some other natural features to try and ameliorate that.
If you know you have got that problem you can go a long way to
designing it into the development. The maintenance is absolutely
crucial because this kind of equipment will not last indefinitely.
Whoever is responsible has got to budget for that.
263. Can I ask you about the long-term management
and maintenance of leisure facilities of whatever kind provided
within developments. That is particularly directed towards the
Peabody Trust. What do you do when local authorities are not willing
to take on maintenance themselves?
(Mr Robinson) Virtually all the play facilities that
we provide are provided on our land and they are our responsibility
to manage and maintain. To be honest with you, we would prefer
to be in that situation because then we can budget for it and
we can make sure, generally speaking, that those play areas survive
for the purposes for which they are intended.
264. What you are telling us is that you do
a better job than local authorities.
(Mr Robinson) I am not necessarily saying that we
do a better job than local authorities. I am saying that where
most of the users of those playgrounds are likely to be our residents,
then we think it makes sense for us to have the responsibility
for looking after that provision.
265. Is that not a bit unfair on residents?
If they lived in other properties the council would maintain their
play areas and facilities. You are saying because they live in
your properties, instead of getting it paid for out of the council
tax, they pay the council tax for someone else to have nicely
maintained parks and you are charging them from the rents as well?
(Mr Robinson) I am not sure it is quite like that
because I do not think local authorities would normally maintain
any kind of play equipment on land which is privately owned by
other organisations. There are a number of instances where we
own quite extensive areas of land which the public effectively
has access to. I suppose in those instances we could approach
local authorities, but for most of the local authority areas we
work in we are not confident that that would be responded to positively
from a financial point of view.
266. In this city of London and in many big
cities, perhaps the most coverted property to live in is a house
in an original Georgian square. When those Georgian squares were
constructed the open space in the centre was the integral part.
One could argue that came first and then houses were put round
the outside. Nowadays, sadly, the open space is the bit that is
tagged on and the play area is the bit that is tagged on at the
very, very end. My question really to The House Builders Federation
is how do we get back to making open space part of the integral
design and how can the planning system help us to do that?
(Mr Newton) I think that is a very interesting question
because one of the messages in PPG3 is that the most important
factor is the intrinsic quality, and whether it improves the residential
environment and the quality of life of residents and people in
the immediate vicinity. One of the problems with the planning
obligations as a whole is that they are perceived as an add-on
benefit which is often not integrated with the development very
well. All the emphasis is on achieving quality, achieving urban
renaissance, making development better than it was before. We
signed up to that because public acceptability of development
is very, very important in terms of securing planning permission
and getting the commitment to develop. I do think that issues
like open space, quality and recreational facilities have to be
considered as an integral part of the scheme rather than an add-on
benefit which the local authority may seek simply because of its
shortage of resources in terms of funding various sorts of facilities.
267. That is not how you design houses. To create
a design you stick your boxes on a certain area, see how many
you can get in and then when the local authority comes along and
says"look, we want open space in it", you take two or
three out and put the playground in.
(Mr Newton) I think you have to recognise that the
extent of the requirement we have been asked to address in PPG3
is a very radical change in the way houses are built. There is
quite a significant shift occurring in our membership because
we have to make that change and the speed with which that change
occurs varies according to the company concerned. There is no
doubt that we are being asked to address a fundamentally different
agenda in terms of design and the overall quality of housing development
wherever it may be located.
(Mr Smith) This is where it integrates into other
areas of planning policy in the senseand I would not necessarily
agree with your charicaturein that you take a layout and
that is stipulated with an inflexible interpretation of highway
regulations which mean s that the kind of creativity you could
take with open space is not achieveable. If we were able, to use
Dickon's word, to be a bit more creative we may find it is easier
to integrate. As an aside, it is a great shame that so many of
the public squares in London are not public and are only accessible
to a handful of people in London in that locality, but that is
something beyond the remit of this inquiry.
(Mr Robinson) One of the problems is the amount of
space given over to parking cars. There is a real dilemma when
you are trying to put a high-quality scheme into a tight urban
area about the amount of ground floor area that you end up allocating
to car parking because that is what the PPG says. There is lots
of pressure on local authorities now from residents in surrounding
streets who do not want more cars parked on the streets, they
want as much parking as possible on site and very often that means
that the bit that might be the attractively designed piece of
open space around which you could compose your project is given
over to parking.
268. Can I come back to the issue we were going
towards. You seem to be crediting PPG3 with perhaps a change of
heart on the part of the developers by saying that it is making
a really valid contribution towards improving standards of design,
but if I could go back to my Georgeian square, those were built
when there were no PPGs and very, very few standards or plans
or anything. Do you feel that plans and standards and PPGs could
even inhibit what we are trying to achieve, which is quality open
space, and just really, in a nutshell, what are your views on
PPG17? Should it just be scrapped entirely?
(Mr Newton) I think standards can inhibit creativity
if the government is prescriptive in terms of density and car
parking and other requirements. That can be a problem in relation
to the particular circumstances of a site.
269. So scrap it or revise it?
(Mr Newton) I think it needs to be fundamentally revised.
We have got a number of concerns we have not mentioned to which
I can refer.
270. I understood that you were also fairly
critical that it really contradicts PPG3 in your view?
(Mr Newton) Yes it does.
271. Very quickly, your problems with it.
(Mr Newton) One of the problems in terms of PPG3 is
that we have a scarce open land resource and we think it is important
that quality open spaces are identified and protected. I think
PPG17 is indiscriminate in terms of not really providing any helpful
categorisation of open space. It treats it as all the same, as
interchangeable. It is indiscriminate in relation to the terms
of the protection. It rather suggests that an area of highly valued,
well-used open space can be equal to an area of previously used
land which is derelict and which might otherwise be used for housing
development and targeted for that. It does not weigh that up in
the balance and it does not discriminate between those different
types of open space.
272. Do you think it is difficult to measure
how a piece of open space is actually used?
(Mr Newton) I think that can be done and categories
can help that process.
273. The Mayor of London is pressing very much
for social housing. Do you see this as a conflict of putting social
housing into areas where you are trying to maintain open space?
(Mr Robinson) I do not think it has to. I think the
Mayor's view is that the proportion of new housing development
which is devoted to affordable housing should increase. If the
overall amount of housing is not increasing then I do not see
why that should be at the expense of open space.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence.