Examination of Witnesses (Questions 362
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
362. Can I welcome you to the last session this
morning and can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
(Ms Woolley) Dave Tibbatts and Helen Woolley from
the Urban Parks Forum. I am a Director of this organisation.
363. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction
or are you happy to go straight into questions?
(Ms Woolley) I would like a few moments for introduction.
As you know, the Urban Parks Forum is a not-for-profit company
created in response to a growing demand for help in overcoming
the generally neglected state of a lot of our urban parks. This
was acknowledged by the Select Committee who learned a lot through
that process. The Urban White Paper has confirmed that this is
an issue that needs to be addressed and that the Government should
work with the Urban Parks Forum and DETR (now the DLTR) who have
funded the Urban Parks Forum for a three-year period to help develop
good practice, undertake research, and create a web site. In addition,
there is additional funding from the HLF to fund two posts to
develop a network of "friends of parks", a term which
I think is very expressive anyway, friends of open spaces, in
the north and south of the country. Personally I am a Director
of the Urban Parks Forum and a chartered landscape architect.
I have worked in both the public sector, for Sheffield City Council,
and the private sector. For nearly ten years I have been a lecturer
in the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield.
One of the things we are currently doing is undertaking research
for the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions
in looking at improving urban parks and play areas. In fact, I
have just been biked in from a focus group in Bexley which was
quite an interesting experience for that research. I would like
to make a few points about the draft as it stands. First of all,
on the timescale, we feel in the Urban Parks Forum that it would
be helpful if the final publication of this document could wait
until after the task force has reported because there is a lot
of work going on and the six working groups, the research that
we are undertaking are all inputting into that, and I would have
thought it could be helpful for the final document to wait until
all that gathered information is there and available. The Committee
I am sure by now is fully aware of the many benefits and opportunities
that parks and other open spaces, particularly in urban areas,
can provide and I do not propose to dwell on those. One of the
things I would like to mention is that one of the most consistent
things about the draft as it stands at the moment is its inconsistent
use of terms. Again I suspect that this has been mentioned by
other people and all I would like to say is without proper definition
of what is "formal" or "informal" spaceand
a lot of people in the field use the terms "active"
and "passive" recreationand what is "recreation",
what is "sport", what are "facilities", these
things mean that any guidance to planners is going to end up perhaps
being interpreted in a chaotic and not a meaningful and constructive
way across the country, and that does concern me. My final point
I would like to mention relates to the manner in which a lot of
planners operate. If a planning policy guidance about sport, open
space and recreation is to be sensible and have a good impact
on strategies and policies and how developers are dealt with in
these issues, I believe it is appropriate for the PPG to give
some guidance on how planners might operate for the benefit of
the communities using these facilities. I believe that it should
be recommendedI do not know how strongly a PPG can word
itthat planners should not work in isolation, because I
feel very often they do. Previous research has identified that
and from practical experience I am aware of this. Planners should
work with the managers of the open spaces, but I would take their
remit further than that. There are a lot of other government programmes
at the minute which I feel planners in relation to sport as well
as open space should link into, issues such as the Government's
National Childcare Strategy where providers of services for early
years are having to produce development plans and link in with
what is happening. I am aware, having talked to some of those
providers in Sheffield, that they are very positively looking
at how play spaces and small open spaces associated with buildings
can be used for children's play, which is very important in child
development. Also the issue of planners dealing and looking at
how educationalists and schools might be involved, and health
issues. What happens if you have a planning application for a
hospital? Are you just going to cram the hospital onto one small
piece of land with no open space? The benefits of open space in
recovery from ill-health are well recorded and yet many hospitals
are built without any view from a window let alone access to open
space. The care of elderly people, people with disabilities, all
these things need to be very realistically addressed by planners
as they deal with this. I would like to see the PPG somehow address
this almost in a preliminary statement.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Clive Betts?
364. You may have given an indication of how
you are going to answer this question already. The Urban White
Paper promised that the PPG would lead to improvements on parks
and open spaces and it gave a list of commitments as to what the
improvements would be. Do you think the promises have been fulfilled
in the draft PPG?
(Ms Woolley) Not fully, no. Some of them have. The
fact that even the Urban Parks Forum has been given funding is
a very important step. That is funded for three years and I would
not deny the importance of that and what we hope that will achieve.
But I think that open spaces have not been dealt with in such
a strategic and cross-thinking manner as the Urban Parks Forum
would like to see happen. Linking this in with the issues of urban
renaissance and the compact city, all these issues have not been
fully addressed. If we think of how planners might look at an
urban area, if they are trying to build on all the brown field
land and create a compact city, what does that mean for open space?
If you build too densely you might not have any gardens or open
space or parks at all. It will be so compact that the quality
of life for people would go down in a lot of different ways. I
think that some of those issues have not been brought out enough
365. Are you saying it is the revision to PPG17
itself that is not right or in fact that that revision has been
done in isolation from other policies like PPG3?
(Ms Woolley) Perhaps a bit of both. I do feel it has
to some extent been written or drafted at this stage in isolation
and has not looked enough at the other PPGs and other government
policies, so I think it has been treated in isolation to some
extent, and I think the draft itself is weak in certain areas.
366. In your opening statement you stressed
very much how you think open space should be related to other
policieshealth issues, provision for the under-fives. Given
the strength of what you said, would it be enough for PPG 17 to
make a general statement about that or do you feel that specific
planning permissions should be tied to open space issues?
(Ms Woolley) I would love to see specific planning
permissions tied to open space issues, yes, and perhaps even a
step further back in looking at how land use is allocated and
how planners say, "This space will be for so many houses
or for a hospital", or whatever and how they deal with that
and allocate that land. Also it is very much how individual planning
applications are dealt with. It does relate to the issues of density
and whether you go upward or outward and, if you do either, what
you do about the open space, which is an intrinsic part of so
many people's daily lives.
367. Looking at urban parks specifically, what
would you have liked PPG 17 to say in relation to urban parks,
in relation to green space and how we should use it?
(Ms Woolley) It talks a little bit about the heritage
of the open space but I do not think that an acknowledge that
parks are a very important part of the urban framework, of the
external part of the built environment comes over strongly. I
think the importance of parks to urban life has been acknowledged
by English Heritage in the register of historic parks and gardens,
and the work HLF has done in putting £160 million into parks,
but these are not mentioned in the PPG. It mentions the heritage
money that has gone toward sport but not toward parks. Even an
acknowledgement of what has happened in the last few years is
not there. Therefore the basis for developing something stronger
for parks is not there and needs to be built on. So reference
to that. Also I do not think issues such as Agenda 21 and the
importance of parks in the community and including people in those
issues have come out in the draft.
368. Was your Parks Assessment Report influenced
by the inquiry this Committee conducted into town and country
(Ms Woolley) The first phase of that work was going
on before the Select Committee met. I think, like any research,
the analysis was done in as objective a way as possible. Would
you say it was influenced, Dave? No, I do not think so. Dave did
a lot more work on the actual assessment than I did. So I think
369. What lessons should have been taken from
your report and from this Committee's study and put in that PPG17
or put in anywhere else in any other requirement?
(Ms Woolley) There are two issues, there is the draft
PPG and then there is the "anywhere else". I think there
are two key things that I would bring to your attention, of which
you are probably fully aware, but this gives us an opportunity
to focus on, and one is to do with the quality and quantity of
open spaces and what is happening . Over a period of 20 years
there has been an on-going decline in the money spent on urban
parks. As you know from the report, we have estimated the cumulative
shortfall of this to be in the region of £1.3 billion over
that period of time and despite the Urban White Paper and setting
up the task force, such decline still continues. Within the last
month Oldham as a council has announced that it is cutting £1
million off its parks and open spaces budget of about £6
million, and the whole town is talking about this because they
know it is going to mean decreased quality in the environment,
loss of jobs and a whole range of other issues. The financial
side can be considered by some to be nothing to do with PPG perhaps
but in a way it is because the tool of Section 106 monies, if
this were to be more often applied to improving some of the existing
areas of open space rather than creating new open spaces that
nobody is going to properly look after, could improve the quality
of the open space. So I think that the financial side, the decline
in money is something that can be taken on board through PPG17,
through referring to Section 106 and what could be done with that,
but also it needs to be addressed in a broader way by government
generally in the ways you were discussing at the end with Ken.
370. Is it reasonable to expect developers to
pay to maintain existing open space?
(Ms Woolley) It depends what you mean by "maintain".
If you have got an existing open space, it may need to be completely
redesigned in a way that is more meaningful for contemporary use
in society. One of the things that has happened with the Heritage
Lottery money is that it has been very welcome but it has only
addressed historic parks, it has not addressed non-historic parks
and it has not addressed those who have not managed to get bids
in for whatever reason. And they may be the more socially deprived
parts of cities, in fact. So I think that, yes, it is reasonable
for a developer to be expected to put money into saying that they
will improve this space. This is here, it is used, it is going
to be used more by the people you are perhaps building houses
for and therefore you could benefit the community very greatly
by improving this space in redesigning and managing it, and you
may even be putting money into a redesign that would mean lower
maintenance costs and management costs in the end.
371. If local authorities under pressure feel
able to reduce their budgets for maintaining open space and parks,
does that reflect a public view?
(Ms Woolley) No it does not. I think it very much
does not because in some places where this has happened there
has been so much public outcry that the year after the politicians
have had to do a U-turn and re-put the budget there. This does
not take into account the fact that if you put money into open
space, existing or new, it can decrease your costs elsewhere.
There is research that shows if you get young kids involved in
sporting activities, indoors and outdoors, that you can take them
off the at-risk part of life for re-offending. If you put money
into these facilities and they are used properly by schools and
by early years, you can help child development in such a way that
they are more likely to be positive members of society and less
likely to be at-risk people as well. It is a whole cross-cutting
issue. Another of the key issues (of the UPF research) is the
fact that the quality of open space seems to be in decline with
39 per cent of parks and open spaces reported as being declining
in condition, and poor parks getting worse. This trend seems to
be significant with respect to the fact that the standards are
declining more significantly where there is not an open space
strategy. There are pie graphs and charts that show how many people
have got an open space strategy and how many are hoping to put
one together during the coming year. I think PPG 17 could help
by requiring local authorities to produce such strategies. As
I have already expressed, I would like to see such strategies,
not just open space strategies but relating to other strategies
that councils might be developing linked in with cross-cutting.
372. Do strategies not cost money?
(Ms Woolley) What is wrong with spending money to
provide a better environment?
373. If it is a question of either having a
strategy or putting a few swings back into a park, would it not
be better to put swings in the park?
(Ms Woolley) Not necessarily. I think the two have
to be looked at together. There are some places in the research
we are doingand we are doing it in confidence and I perhaps
ought not be telling youwhere swings and playgrounds are
being taken out because as soon as there is any risk of something
being dangerous, councils are afraid of being sued so playgrounds
are being taken out. In one way you could say in the short term
putting swings back immediately is a good thing to do but if in
the long term a strategy helps you to look at not just what you
have got and what you might have but how you might attract long-term
funding to it, then, surely, that is a good way to be spending
your time and effort and then you can be developing your individual
projects within that overall strategy. The issue really about
two or three swingsand I am a mother of young children
who love to go to the parkis for the individual communities
and what that means. There needs to be a whole educational process
where the community is involved and it is explained why strategies
374. You sound a bit as if you are saying if
there is not a response to the need for properly managed open
spaces then that is the responsibility of the locals themselves
and that it is quite alright to have a lot of local government
space and time moved up getting a nice infrastructure sorted out.
All that means, in effect, is that they will cease to think in
terms of non-expensive open spaces and concentrate on how much
time they have got to give to specific projects that show up on
(Ms Woolley) My intention is that a strategy would
look at all the open space a local authority has and it might
sometimes have to make some a priority, partly through funding
opportunities. If you look at what HLF has done, it has meant
that local authorities which did have strategies have had to go
into that strategy but they have selected historic parks, and
the ones that were not historic have not been prioritised in.
So there has been a degree of opportunism where there has been
some money available and people have had to go to that, which
means that other places have not had the money put in. That is
not what we would like to see. What we want is a strategy whereby
decisions on priorities might be made on different reasons, and
I think that is where some guidelines are needed associated with
this, making assessments about existing facilities and facilities
that might be needed ( "facilities" here meaning open
spaces) and that there should be guidelines attached to the PPG
to help local authorities to make those decisions so they are
not making them in a vacuum.
375. In a nutshell, are you saying that PPG17
should emphasise quality over quantity and that the priority should
be to enhance the existing spaces rather than creating new ones?
(Ms Woolley) I suppose in a way I am. I had not thought
of it as prioritising existing space over new space, but I think
the quality of those open spaces is very important and that is
the issue that needs to be addressed. It is about what is most
appropriate for the community as well. I will just tell you what
we were doing last night for the research. We met a small group
of young people in Bexley and after some discussion about the
space that they were talking about which they call a "field",
they took us to see it. It was so bland and poorly designed. It
has one football post, not two, it has one basketball net, it
does not have any hard surface to bounce a ball on and it is surrounded
by roads, and yet for ten years this 13-year-old boy has been
using that. I look at that as a designer and think, "My goodness,
this is a really poorly designed space". If there is so much
meaning attached to some of these existing spaces, you would not
want to take it away from them or create something else they were
not going to use. You want to do what the community needs and
improve that site. I suppose in a way I am saying what is happening
with existing spaces is that you can re-design them and it does
not mean that you necessarily change their character, and that
is perhaps more important than new spaces that nobody can afford
to maintain or look after where there is no community value attached
to them at that time.
376. I know you are a new organisation but would
you like to comment on whether or not, in your opinion, there
is a serious communication problem in most local authorities between
the planners and the officers who run the parks and amenities
or leisure departments?
(Ms Woolley) I think I alluded to that a little bit
in my introduction. I have worked in local government and know
something of what it is like. The Urban Parks Forum started as
a group of predominantly managers and people looking at new ways
of managing parks along with other people concerned, such as ourselves
as academics but who have perhaps been practitioners. I think
the contemporary importance of open space means that quality is
very important. I think that in many local authorities a lot of
local authority officers have worked in individual boxes within
that local authority and have not talked across to each other.
I think historically planners have not talked to park managers.
We are finding that some UDPs, even on the planning policies about
leisure and recreation of open spaces, have not talked to the
managers about it, and I feel that is a professional mistake really.
377. Who is at fault, the planners for not talking
or the people in the leisure departments for not making a fuss?
(Ms Woolley) Perhaps it is both. It takes two to tango,
it takes two to make a decent policy, or perhaps even more than
two. As I said earlier, we need to have the early years workers
education, health, a whole range of people involved. I think that
this needs to be encouraged in that way. If we think of what planning
policy guidance is about, it is about providing a framework for
planners to advise developers, to make policy and make decisions
on, and to be doing that in isolation from the rest of society,
in a way, which is sometimes what they do, I feel is wrong. I
think this may also come down to how they should be trained and
on-going professional development, if they are not used to working
together. In a way, involving communities in projects and regeneration
processes means that the timescale is very different, and you
have to allow more time and resources, and it may mean that developing
those policies and strategies may take more time because rather
than the planners coming up with policies they will be talking
with other people.
378. You criticise the draft as being overwhelmingly
biased towards sport. Is that not a bit unfair? If sports provision
were dramatically improved, would it not help in improving open
spaces as well? An awful lot of parks have playing fields in them
and if playing fields are well-kept and well-used it brings people
into parks and makes the parks successful.
(Ms Woolley) Sport is not the only activity that takes
place in parks, just one of them. The amount of space they take
and the amount of budget they take is disproportionate to the
amount of time and the sectors of society that use sports grounds,
which tend to be predominantly male and a certain section of the
male population, although there are some women's teams around
and increasingly so. Other activities that take place in parks
and open spaces, as you know, are dog walking, taking the kids
to the playground, going to get away from the hustle and bustle
of life and away from the traffic, lots of other activities. Sport
is one small activity that takes place.
379. You do not think they are complementary;
you think they are competitive?
(Ms Woolley) No, I do not think they are competitive.
What I think is that the emphasis should be swapped round and
instead of it being sport with open space tagged on, it should
be open space with sport as a subset of that. Because even where
sport takes place in a sports centre, it is set in an open space.
Even if that open space is just a dreadfully designed car park,
it is set in it and associated with it and very often they have
with them playing fields as well, and that is part of it. Playing
fields are not often set in isolation; they are part of open space.
I do feel that the emphasis needs to be swapped around and that
it should be open space, which is in fact the land. Sport is not
the land, planners deal with the land, open space is the land
and then there is sport and recreation. You could put dog walking
in there as well. These are the issues that need to be considered
because dogs and dog walking and dog mess is a big issue in a
lot of open space and not just parks. They are complementary to
each other, but the emphasis is wrong.