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

Examination of Witness (Questions 340 - 359)




  340. Can I welcome you to the Committee. Can you identify yourself for the record.
  (Mr Worpole) My name is Ken Worpole. I am a writer and environmentalist and member of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force.

  341. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?

  (Mr Worpole) My interest in this issue is about people's use of parks. By background I am more of a social historian than a landscape person or parks person. The one piece of work I was deeply involved in in terms of planning open space was a piece of research done for the London Planning Advisory Committee in 1999 on assessing the demand for open space in London. It threw up what seems to me to be a key issue about the planning of open space in modern cities, which is traditionally we see open space as a series of parks or discrete spaces and I think in a more environmentally conscious era we are trying to think of open space in the city as a series of networks or corridors through which people walk or cycle safely, so the whole question of open space includes not just the discrete spaces but the streets and the ways in which you connect these things up. It does raise real problems because you can mobilise communities about protecting and defending a park, particularly against outsiders or cyclists or strangers, but how do you convince people to open up the open space to other people's needs and so on? I am very struck by a phrase that they use in Scandinavia when talking about open space, where they talk about the "green communicative structure of the city", which embodies both the space and the need for people to flow and meet and so on. That is how I feel about open space.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Clive Betts?

Mr Betts

  342. Could you tell us—and we have had slightly different information given so far—to what extent the Urban Green Spaces Task Force was consulted about the changes to PPG17?
  (Mr Worpole) It was on the agenda of an early meeting when Beverley Hughes was the Minister chairing the task force. When it came to that item on the agenda she felt that since one or two members of the Urban Spaces Task Force had in public made comment on the draft PPG 17, that this made it impossible for there to be a consensual discussion and in fact the item was not taken.

  343. So there was a consultation then with the actual task force?
  (Mr Worpole) The task force did not in any substantive way discuss draft PPG17 although, as the Minister knew, and everybody else knew, many of us had in various ways commented on the subject publicly. I can see why there could be problems.

  344. It is just that in the previous evidence session we were told by officials in the Department that the task force did consider PPG17 issues, and representation was made to the planning team. "I think my planning colleagues .... are aware (of) a bundle of issues, which is coming via the task force side."
  (Mr Worpole) That is how I —

  Chairman: You are certainly good at making expressions but to get it on the record I need you to tell me that it is a load of cobblers.

Mrs Dunwoody

  345. Or words to that effect!
  (Mr Worpole) The agenda item was not taken at the meeting.

Mr Betts

  346. Do you think it would have been helpful had it been?
  (Mr Worpole) I guess it might have been seen as a diversion and we would then be circulated copies and so on. The priority work of the task force obviously is to think about urban green spaces and it was a very early meeting. Whether that is a comment on another government department document—

Mrs Ellman

  347. To what extent will the draft revision of PPG17 bring about the urban renaissance?
  (Mr Worpole) Not in its present form. I have found the document very confusing. I could not really tell what its priorities were. It starts with sport, open space and recreation. If it is about open space that should have been the opening phrase, "open space" and then formal and informal recreation. Organised sport in open spaces in cities is a minority pursuit. The substantive function of open space in towns and cities is much more about recreation, enjoyment, play, informal dog walking, park strolling and so on. It is not about organised sport. This seemed to me to be a tail wagging a dog.

  348. How would you like to change PPG17 apart from you have referred to the undue emphasis on sport?
  (Mr Worpole) If you look at the Urban Renaissance document which, in a way, resulted in the Urban White Paper, it specifically called for an advisory committee on parks, playing areas and public spaces. That seems to me a fairly robust definition of what open space is about and the urban renaissance is about parks, play areas and open spaces, including hard public spaces. If we think of one of the great success stories of the urban renaissance, Birmingham city centre, that is about hard open space. It has to orientate itself to that wider definition of public open space.

  349. Are there any other specific things that you would like to change?
  (Mr Worpole) It does refer briefly to networks but I do not think it has brought to the fore this dilemma we face—and I think it is a genuine dilemma because in the Urban Green Spaces Task Force we have been very impressed by terrific examples of community involvement in small spaces, community farms, community gardens, and you can mobilise voluntary activities by communities to improve small spaces and so on—which is that it leaves the question of the big urban parks that are currently looking rather run down. I have forgotten the question, could you repeat it?

  350. I was saying was there anything else that you would like to change or add in the PPG 17 as drafted?
  (Mr Worpole) It is to go back to the Urban White Paper and the Urban Renaissance document and to focus on parks, play areas and public spaces, a triumvirate of open space.

Dr Pugh

  351. The draft revision of PPG 17 states that: "Authorities should seek opportunities to make better use of land by ... relocating amenity open space and sports fields to sites where other developments are precluded". What are your views on this land exchange and what are its implications for the urban renaissance?
  (Mr Worpole) People, particularly developers, are very keen to develop new spaces because it is quite easy, not using very much money, to take a flat piece of derelict land, grass it, and put a few shrubs in. The real problem for open space in British towns and cities is what to do with the open space and playing fields we have already got. With land exchange schemes there might be a temptation, as we have seen already in parts of inner London, to use valuable open space for development and exchange it for a rather less valuable playing field on the outskirts of the city, which is not part of the urban renaissance. The urban renaissance requires high quality open space and playing space in the heart of the city. The problem is in endlessly wanting to transfer these things out to the margins.

  352. In a nutshell, potentially negative?
  (Mr Worpole) Yes.

Ms King

  353. What I wanted to ask you about was relating to what you said before because I think it is the crux of the issue about the sports element. Why do you think it is that there is this over-emphasis on sport and how do you think it is going to be broken?
  (Mr Worpole) It is not surprising because we do have Sport England which, rightly, is a professional organisation with professional researchers able to rally lots of evidence in support of its case. We do not have the same kind of capacity for the environmental case or the social case. There is not only a Sports Lottery Fund but sport seems to be getting a substantial part of the New Opportunities Fund as well, so they are getting two bites of the cherry. So it is a powerful lobby.


  354. Is not the Urban Green Spaces Task Force supposed to be a counter-weight?
  (Mr Worpole) We are all lay, voluntary people. Yes, I hope it will be. It has not reported yet, there is an interim report coming out. It is part of a bigger dilemma that indoor leisure in Britain is now much more highly favoured than outdoor leisure. The lobby for indoor leisure is quasi commercial (and many people who are trained to work in leisure departments in local authorities come from an indoor leisure background which seems to be much more market oriented with charging, and so on)and that culture is of a piece in some ways with this vision. I think what has been forgotten is the fact that outdoor open space as a recreational, health and leisure facility is used by a much wider cross-section of the population than indoor leisure centres. The demographics of use of indoor leisure is probably very tiny.

  355. You think if you charged people for dog walking it would get a higher profile?
  (Mr Worpole) If you could put the cost per user for indoor leisure that is publicly subsidised against the cost per user of outdoor leisure, outdoor leisure is much more cost-effective. I think in your Select Committee report on town and country parks, someone produced a figure of 50 pence per user for a public park whereas the figures for indoor swimming run up to £8 per user. An outdoor open space park is very good value for money for a much wider section of the population.

Christine Russell

  356. You mentioned earlier that the PPG17 omits completely any reference to all the hard civic places, the "public realm" in the centre of our towns and cities. Can I ask you to elaborate on what you said earlier and tell us why you think that is a serious omission and what guidance you feel is needed by local authorities regarding that very valuable open space in the heart of our towns and cities?
  (Mr Worpole) The Urban Renaissance and the Urban White Paper did put a high priority on civic public space as a new form of creating civic pride and socialability in the city centre. Likewise, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and the work of the Social Exclusion Unit has concentrated not so much on parks but on street quality, as does the notion of liveability. So it is a slightly romantic view that open space has to be grassed and it is a slightly English view; you would not find it in Barcelona or Paris. A lot of great open spaces there either have shingle or they are paved. The other danger of thinking about open space as grass is that it then allows people to think it is self-repairing, you do not have to spend so much on it, and this does raise the issue of maintenance. You do have to pay to manage and maintain high-quality outdoor space whether it is grass or hard surface. That factor has not come on the agenda in the Urban White Paper as much as I would like to see it. People are keen on big-scale investments in Birmingham or Bristol or the Thames Walkway, which are wonderful, and they are getting tens of thousands of people, but they will require long-term management and maintenance. It is not currently on the table how you do that.


  357. Do you think you can have a planning system as far as open space is concerned which is totally out of kilter with the amount of resources? Would it not be much better to cut the number of parks and open spaces in half and then there would be enough money to maintain them properly rather than have this wish list of large amounts of open space which is very poorly maintained?
  (Mr Worpole) I have been tempted in that direction myself. There clearly are places in British towns and cities, and I know parts of London, where there probably is too much open space such that it dilutes the sense of community and urbanity so much that people do not like it because there are drugs and teenagers drive cars there and so on. In some areas you can have too much urban open space. We are only just beginning to realise how important this connective tissue of towns and streets is, for children particularly. There is a great deal of consensus on the Urban Green Spaces Task Force already emerging. One of the things you will find is that we put children and young people as a priority. We are seeing very much that we are not going in the European direction where children have much greater freedom on the streets and security when using buses and so on; we are going towards the North American model where parents drive children everywhere by car. Unless you have a high quality set of open space networks we will not get children back in the streets playing, walking to school, and so on. This is much more important than a few football pitches.

  358. So how are you going to fund it? Are the 106 agreements a way of funding it?
  (Mr Worpole) Only a small way. The way you fund it is the same way as if you decide that you really want Britain to become a world-class sporting nation—you put money into it. If you want people to live in towns and cities and live healthily, you have to put money in. That has to come from local authorities or central government or a combination of the two. You either take open space as seriously as you take indoor space or you just let it go to the dogs.

  359. Are you serious about that?
  (Mr Worpole) I am, yes. I was in Malmo over the summer on holiday and they take it seriously. Everything about it is pristine, the cycle ways, the pavements, the bus service, the connection between the train station and the bus station. It is about a high-quality open public realm, and at the moment we are in danger of going down the American road, that as long as you can get in the car and get out the other end, you can drive through a battlefield, and many decision-makers do.

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