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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 273 - 279)




  273. Good morning. Could I welcome you to the third session of our inquiry into sport, open space and recreation. Could I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.

  (Mr Earley) My name is Don Earley, I am the Deputy Director of the National Playing Fields Association.
  (Mr Garber) My name is Paul Garber, I am a Trustee of the National Playing Fields Association and Chairman of the Land Protection and Planning Committee of that organisation.

  274. Thank you very much. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Mr Earley) If I could say a few words, Chair. Founded in 1925 and granted a Royal Charter in 1933 known as the Playing Fields Association for the United Kingdom—the NPFA really is the only national organisation having specific responsibility for acquiring, protecting and improving playing fields, playgrounds and playing space. We have direct legal or ethical interest in the protection of possibly 2,000 sites in the United Kingdom of that nature. Our primary concern, particularly in the context of this meeting today, is in outdoor playing space, which is space that is safely accessible and available to the general public; and of a suitable size and nature for sport, physical recreation or children's play. I would wish to mention also that outdoor playing space importantly is not the same as open space; open space takes other forms of space available to the community, although outdoor playing is an important requirement of it. I say that only in the sense that many local authorities themselves have in the past confused the NPFA's view about outdoor playing space with open space. Our involvement in planning issues is fairly broad. Obviously we take the opportunity to try and influence national policy. We do make comments on emerging local plans; and also we are contacted by many members of the public for advice in relation to threats to green space or play facilities or recreational facilities near to where they live. I think the other thing I would wish to stress here is that the NPFA is a different type of body from Sport England (Sport England has a focus on sport, indoor and outdoor—ours is recreation more generally) but there is a lot of commonality between our work. We are a voluntary body, charitable by nature; and the organisation of Sport England is more, in a sense, inside government with a lot more funding and a lot more staffing. I think it is fair also to say that Sport England's role is more strategic; whereas the NPFA gets involved more at grass roots, particularly in terms of where we have land interests.

Mr Betts

  275. In your memorandum you said that you do not necessarily think that the revised PPG17's guidance will be workable, in the sense that it will actually protect open space in the way you desire. I think you accept that the Government's intentions are right but that it might fail in practice?
  (Mr Earley) Yes.

  276. Could you elaborate a bit more on your ideas on this?
  (Mr Earley) It is clear, I think, that the Government's intentions are quite clear, and there is a desire, and a genuine desire, to protect open space. I think our difficulty stems from references in fact to disposals of playing fields. The references effectively say that if playing fields are to be disposed of then one needs to make an assessment and ensure that no other form of open space is in fact deficient. I think that is very difficult. If you look at open space types, we have parks, we have golf courses, we have allotments and we have children's play areas, formal or informal. Each and every one of those would need to have some form of standard or assessment or benchmark by which it is assessed as to whether it is going to be in excess or underneath whatever that benchmark or measurement may be. I feel that the functions of different forms of open space, the land take that may be needed, for example, for a public golf course by comparison with much smaller facilities, make the whole exercise very, very difficult indeed. Whilst the aim is certainly there and recognised, I think in practice it will be difficult. I think we also have to bear in mind that in many senses planning for sport, recreation, leisure and children's play is rather a poor relation and resources are not put in to ensure that assessments of need/determination of standards take place. I think that is where the difficulty lies.

  277. You have explained the problem—what is the solution? Is it one of the type of definitions in the guidance, or is it something else you are looking for?
  (Mr Earley) I think the references to playing fields in the previous guidance were probably better than the position we are in with the present guidance. The NPFA itself is involved with playing fields and you get requests for disposals of land. The view that we generally take is that you need to show in any once instance the land is no longer going to be required by the community involved and, therefore, it is surplus. As a charity we also put proceeds back into it. I think the difficulties we have sometimes in terms of disposals of playing fields are that there is a reliance upon assessments. While it may be possible to make assessment of a playing pitch demand today, there are many sports development programmes which may mean that in ten years' time that land is going to be needed again. There are difficulties in that. I think at the present time, we satisfy ourselves as the NPFA by saying that the previous paragraphs within the existing PPG gave a clearer position, and clarity is, I think, important.

Ms King

  278. How do you judge or what evidence do you have to show that six acres of playing space per 1,000 people is the correct minimum standard that should be applied up and down the country?
  (Mr Earley) You are asking for evidence, and I think we would want to point you to, for example, the work that was undertaken by the Oxford Brookes University. There is a reference in there to recommendations. Where assessments have been undertaken of the NPFA recommendations they have tended to indicate that more land might be required, and that is an external source. I can certainly reflect back to around 1994 when there was a register of recreational land compiled by the Sports Council, but with the help of ourselves and the Council for Physical Recreation. Part of the Standard (and I say "part" because it was only that part which applies to playing pitches and three acres) was assessed and calculated in relation to public access and the population count. In that instance, allowing for the fact that that survey was not judged to be 100 per cent accurate, making some allowance for that, you probably ended up in those days with about 38 per cent meeting the NPFA Standard. The evidence from external sources indicates that, despite the fact it was drawn up a long time ago, it is a good working tool. We would not claim that it is the only working tool, Chair. We would not wish people to think that the NPFA Standard should be slavishly adhered to; but we do think it is a good working tool and, until something better comes on to the table, I think it should be retained. We would also say that local studies are very important for putting local reflection on the position.

  279. Is it not strange that the use of outdoor sports facilities and open spaces changed quite substantially over the last few decades, and yet the Standard has not changed at all?
  (Mr Earley) It may appear to be strange, and people clearly can and may take that view. I think we have to bear in mind that the Standard is a minimum Standard; it is not an optimum Standard; it is not a maximum Standard. I think it would be the case that sometimes there may be land in excess, sometimes it may be about right and sometimes it may be slightly under the NPFA recommendations. Having said that, it is a Standard that applies not specifically to individual sports or types of land use in that sense; it is trying to protect the recreational land bank overall. There are issues there, as I have just mentioned, about latent demand, and the possibility of increased participation in the future which means we need protection now.
  (Mr Garber) There is another factor also which comes into this and that is the change of technical facilities that are available. You have multi-use facilities which not only relate to dedicated activities (for example, you can have a multi-use surface, an astroturf surface for hockey pitches; they facilitate extended usage beyond the normal daylight hours; they are not having the dictation of weather conditions, which would normally limit use) but also, significantly, out of the specific sports, they facilitate other activities to take place—whether it is general training, whether it is hockey or it could be linked to cricket training for example. One cannot ignore the development of indoor facilities or the excellence of those facilities. You can have areas such as multi-use games areas, which are outdoor facilities which can quadruple (and possibly way beyond that) the level of activity and the type of activity; because you can have an inter-relationship from volleyball, to basketball, to netball, to tennis. All of these provide a wide opportunity. That demand is met very much partly by technology and the opportunities that technology has created, and that technology links with the surfaces and to matters such as floodlighting. There is an intrinsic benefit that comes out of that which creates that balance. I think that is particularly important in urban areas, where those opportunities are very wide.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 November 2001