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

Examination of Witness (Questions 440-459)



  440. That is a good question. This is a somewhat artificial distinction because some squares will have elements of paving and greenery.
  (Ms Keeble) To an extent.


  441. Let me give you an example. Outside is Parliament Square. What does that count as? Pavement round, grass in the middle and then some sort of hard area with the statues in it.
  (Ms Keeble) I would call that a green space.

  442. Does your document?
  (Ms Keeble) Obviously there is an element of interpretation. However, I would not include within this general paved areas, pavements, home zones, because those are not the areas which by and large require protection under the planning system because they are roads and pavements.

  443. So Parliament Square would be in but Trafalgar Square would be out?
  (Ms Keeble) What we are not talking about, for example, is whether or not you turn Piccadilly Circus back to a roundabout. Those are not the issues. This is about creating open space that people can use for a variety of formal and informal recreation and leisure purposes. The Task Force has been looking at definitions of green spaces and those include some quite difficult areas that again people might not automatically think would be included, like on cemeteries which are sometimes used now for some recreational purposes, and wildlife areas and nature areas within towns and areas such as that. But it would not generally include areas which you would regard as streets and roadways.

Dr Pugh

  444. Excluding streets and roadways you still said that there will be issues of interpretation and within the planning law that is the one thing planners will seek to avoid, that hard edge decisions are made which sometimes have legal consequences. Is it rather strange to have a PPG that is going to need a measure of interpretation?
  (Ms Keeble) It is a draft PPG and, as I said, there are some conflicts already in the different definitions included. There is a different one at the bottom of the introduction from what there is a bit higher up so the definitions are obviously something that we will have to clarify.


  445. I am sorry to interrupt, but you moving your eyebrows up and down, Lord Falconer, does not really go on to the record.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was doing that by reference to the fact that what Sally is saying is reflecting what has been said all along, that this document needs tightening up and what Mr Pugh is saying about it being a bad idea in a planning document to end up with a legal minefield and debating precisely what the boundaries of the definition are is absolutely right. I hope I reflected that in my opening statement in saying in effect that this document does need some clarification.

  Chairman: I am just keen to get your eyebrows on the record.

Dr Pugh

  446. Could I move on to another specific criticism which has been voiced here? One is that open space means green space but more narrowly that open space primarily is thought in terms of sport and recreational areas, too much emphasis on that, too little on the other incidental open spaces.
  (Ms Keeble) It is certainly the case that there are types of green spaces that have a much stronger lobby about them and I think the well established traditional parks and sporting facilities have a much stronger protection than some of the smaller informal areas which are highly valued by the community, well used and need to be protected and developed. Those are some of the issues that the Task Force is looking at.

  447. You would accept that the PPG should not be a function of the strength of the lobbying groups?
  (Ms Keeble) Absolutely not. If you are talking specifically about the PPG the sporting lobby is also critical of the PPG and I do think that there is some difficulty, and again this needs to be sorted out before we get the final PPG, of making absolutely clear that there are different types of green spaces and open spaces and make clear how each one is valued and how the different types should be dealt with so that it is clear that we protect the small spaces as well as the larger ones and also that we are able to look at improving the smaller spaces and creating the smaller spaces and not just the larger ones.

  448. On the different types point there is obviously well designed space and there is poorly designed and perhaps unusable space. Can the PPG do anything to ensure that the latter does not happen and the former does?
  (Ms Keeble) What we need to make sure of is that there is proper provision for the smaller neighbourhood open space as well as the larger traditional ones. The reality is that in a lot of developments the inclusion of the small spaces is particularly important.

  449. It was not just the smaller/larger distinction. It was really the distinction between space that is of value and worth having and space that is not worth having, space that is well designed and space that is not. The PPG you think does all it can to assist that?
  (Ms Keeble) I think the PPG could be clearer about the different types of open space and the way in which they should be assessed and should be used.

  450. My concern—I put it rather bluntly—is that if you get a very badly designed, practically useless bit of open space which is very difficult to maintain as well, it could be afforded a degree of planning protection but it is probably not worth getting that for it. On the other hand there may be circumstances where it would be better to remove it and to provide something else. Do you think that the PPG provides an en bloc protection of open space or is it going to be flexible about design and maintenance issues?
  (Ms Keeble) What the PPG makes clear is that if a development proposal comes along for a piece of land which is not currently used which might be one of these informal spaces, assessments can be made of the use that is made of that space and whether or not it should be built on and how that space should then be used. What you are talking about is what should local authorities do about small spaces which are not used and can become an environmental problem. I think that is for the local authority to look at its land use more generally. It is not about what happens in terms of when an application comes along for the use fo a particular piece of land.

Mrs Ellman

  451. Lord Falconer, in one of your replies earlier you implied that there is a separation between the planning of open space in terms of land use and the management of that space. If that separation is maintained does that not mean that we are developing an inbuilt obsolescence?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There certainly is a separation between the two in the way it is administered. Planning is dealt with in local authorities entirely separately from the delivery of services that will include the maintenance of public spaces. There has plainly got to be some separation between the two because the planning function is different and has particular obligations that have to be delivered. There has to be a joint understanding between the two bits of the local authority as to what the basic objectives are in relation to open space and recreational facilities.

  452. Do you not feel that there should be some further guidance on linking up planners and managers in terms of open space?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there should be guidance about planning policies connecting in with the broader policies for local authorities and anybody else responsible for recreational space and I think that is an important issue to develop in the planning Green Paper. It is difficult to see what further guidance one could think of to say what role the planning department should play by reference to as it were the maintenance department of the local authority.

  453. Yet in the draft PPG, paragraphs 38 and 39, there is reference to management so that has been recognised, so why no recommendation if the problem has been identified?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because the improvement in relation to management will be very important in determining what you have already got in the local authority area. One of the things that PPG is specifically identifying is that you have to assess need and you can only assess need by identifying what you have got and how usable it is.

  454. But I am talking about maintaining a facility once it has been made available. Are you satisfied that planning in terms of land use can identify land for green space but then not give any consideration as to how that might be maintained?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously considerations should be given to how it should be maintained and local authorities should be encouraged as much as possible to maintain them as much as possible. There is a cross-cutting review going on preparatory to the comprehensive spending review which across government will be looking at how you ensure that open space is well managed and you want to give as much guidance as you can in relation to that. The message I am trying to get across is that planning departments and local authorities as a whole should have a joint aim in relation to what they are seeking to produce in relation to the management of green space.

Mrs Dunwoody

  455. But you have said that where you think they are not doing it properly you are going to name and shame them by linking their budgets with their level of performance.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to the maintenance of green space—can you tell me the bit you are referring to there?

  456. I am just interested because on the one hand you seem to be saying to the Committee, "We should sort all these things out which make it simpler". On the other hand we are saying to you that what you are proposing is not clear and you may deal with it as you yourself suggested by some kind of supplementary evidence, and then, when you are talking to the planning authorities themselves you say there are more than 800 pages of national guidance on planning. We can make a start by reducing that burden." I am not very clever and I am a little confused. Are you going to reduce the amount of supplementary guidance or are you going to increase it, are we going to make it clearer or are we just going to make it a bit more brutal?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we are seeking to do is to try to shorten as much as possible the material like PPG17 which is actually the material considerations in relation to planning.

  457. Shorten it. Not clarify it; shorten it.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) By shortening it we hope to clarify it. The principles should be clear.

  458. Ah, well, the things are connected?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are connected but they are not necessarily synonymous.

  459. No. That had occurred to me.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In addition to clarifying it and shortening it we will also seek to produce good practice guidance which will not have the same status in the planning system but will help local authorities deliver the aims. For example, in relation to PPG3 which is the housing national guidance, that is a much shorter documents than other similar documents but it has got something that goes with it which is in effect a guidance as to how local authorities can implement it.

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