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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 273)



Christine Russell

  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 and appropriate.

  261. Do you find that the properties adjacent to these play areas are the most difficult to sell? Is that a problem?
  (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!

Mr Cummings

  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.

Chris Grayling

  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.

Christine Russell

  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.

Mr Betts

  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 sense—and I would not necessarily agree with your charicature—in 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.

Christine Russell

  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.

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