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

Examination of Witness (Questions 480-499)



  480. Is there not a danger of local authorities falling back to using national standards, such as the National Playing Fields Association's Six-Acre Standard?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In certain cases there are standards set by organisations like the National Playing Fields that might be appropriate. Sally, in her evidence, indicated that that particular standard may be a bit mechanistic, but if one of the complaints about the planning system is that there is just too much guidance coming, it is causing too many problems and there is so much to get through—which is what, broadly, both local authorities and other groups are saying—then the right thing to do, I think, is to make it simpler and more comprehensible. That will help rather than hinder.

  481. If Section 106 agreements are replaced with "impact fees" will it not make it more difficult to tie offsite provision to specific developments?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there was some sort of "impact fee" arrangement those fees would be set by the local authority, they would have identified what their needs in a particular area were and they would then be able to decide where to spend it. So it would be for them to decide what the benefits to a particular community were from particular developments. I do not think it would make it harder to lead to offsite provision, it would probably make it easier.

Mr Betts

  482. It is a bit like buying planning permission.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If the position is that there is a system at the moment whereby you have got to give some sort of agreement, some benefit, to the community in order to deal with what the consequences of the development are, far better that it is absolutely clear what that particular benefit is; everybody knows what it is, everybody knows what is done with it.

Mrs Dunwoody

  483. So it is not wrong to bribe, it is just wrong to keep quiet about the size of the bribe.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a bribe; it is saying "If this development is going to cause further need for schools, further need for roads, further need for housing, why do you not make a contribution?"


  484. You are using "further need", are you not? I can understand the link between the development and something that happens as a consequence of development. What about saying "Because of the development we would like to spend the money by upgrading some of the open space within the communities"?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We can do that. What you do not want, however, is a system where you do not precisely know what it is that is expected and you do not precisely know once it is obtained what is done with it. You need to deal with both the certainty of what is expected and what is done with it. You also do not want fine distinctions about whether it is a precise consequence of the development; you want to be able to say "Is this something that promotes sustainable development in the area?"

  485. So you want transparent bribes?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am stepping back from the word "bribe".

Sir Paul Beresford

  486. Purchase price?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. Contribution to the community in the light of the development.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Is that a legal definition?

Mr Cummings

  487. How will the revised PPG 17 ensure that local authorities can plan for new and enhanced facilities in their development plans with the confidence that these plans will be supported and can be supported at public inquiries?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because what it is saying is that each local authority should do a needs assessment, both in terms of quantity and quality, of the recreational space that it needs. Once it has done that needs assessment and made it part of its development plan that will be a material consideration in both its planning committee hearing planning applications and in any appeals that then take place. PPG 17, in effect, sets out what the framework will be.

  488. You really think that it is going to be simpler, more certain, quicker and more user-friendly?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I very much hope so, yes. I think PPG 17 would make a contribution to that as long as the local authorities do their bit, which is do their needs assessment in relation to the recreational needs in their area.

Mrs Dunwoody

  489. What you are saying, in effect, is "There is too much guidance at national level, what you need to do is do all the work at local government level, prepare all these strategies and, then, you are on your own when it comes to planning guidance because we have given you an overall indication but we have not given you sufficient mandatory back-up."
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not accept that at all. What we are doing is saying "Here are the principles, the local authority should decide in its own area."

  490. My Lord, you know that planning departments are told always by their, usually rather inadequate, legal advisers that they must do nothing which will put them at risk of wasting the taxpayers' money by putting them into courts.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You would not have to use the planning department necessarily to do an assessment in the area of: "What are our needs for recreational sport and open spaces? What have we got? Therefore, what should we do about the existing facilities? What new facilities do we need?" That is not, necessarily, the planning department's job, that is a job for the environmental part of the local authority or whoever is appropriate. You cannot get central government to do that task in local authority areas, it would be totally inappropriate.

Sir Paul Beresford

  491. Many of the local authorities are rather curious as to whether your department ever assesses how many strategies, how many documents, how many this, that and the next thing they have got to do. Are you actually going to, somewhere in your department, reduce the number?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A lot of local authorities have made that point loud and clear. The number is 100 and something. Obviously one needs to reduce as much as possible the burden of producing such strategies.

Mr Betts

  492. On the issue of Section 106, remembering what you said about impact fees, it goes beyond that because the draft guidance, at present, does talk about the possibility of enhancing or maintaining existing facilities but it talks about their use by inhabitants on new developments or the needs of new communities. Are you really saying that what you would like to see is the guidance go further so that the needs of existing communities can be taken account of as well? Otherwise you are simply going to get new developments or existing developments, and all the emphasis will be going on meeting the needs of new communities.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would not want to see Section 106 restricted to, as it were, just the inhabitants of, or the consequences of, new developments, because section 106 should be used to create a sustainable community overall, and that must embrace the whole community rather than those who simply come and live in a new development, for example.

  493. How does that square with DOE circular 197 which, I think, states that planning agreements should not be used to remedy existing deficiencies in provision?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It does not square with it. You are right to identify that as something we need to look in the course of the Green Paper, and we are going to looking at it.

Mrs Dunwoody

  494. I am sorry, my Lord. We are getting into a slightly bizarre situation of saying that we must bring about these changes and ask local authorities to come up with various strategies now. However, the Green Paper is going to come but not until December, and meanwhile that may very well contain elements which will require primary legislation, which means it could not happen before the year after it actually comes out. Are you not putting local authorities in a position where you are saying, on the one hand, they have got to do a great deal more in sorting out their own strategies, they must also widen some of the terms under which they operate, but they will not have the primary legislation to back them up and they will be required to do this before you have made clear to Parliament what you want done in order to change the planning system?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think that is fair at all.

  495. It was not meant to be fair, it was meant to exploratory.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I apologise then. What PPG 17 is saying is "Identify what your needs for recreation etc. facilities are. Put that into your local development plan." There is no need for any change in the law to achieve that. There is no need for any change in the way that planning works for applications which then follow in relation to development being over existing facilities or for new facilities. They can then be dealt with in accordance with whatever needs assessment has been done by local authorities.

  496. I think it is a cunning plot to expand the work of your profession, my Lord.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can understand why you might say that, but it is not right. It surely makes it simpler if what you have got is clarity about what a local authority's assessment of the needs for recreational facilities are.

Mrs Ellman

  497. Are you satisfied that enough local authorities actually have a strategy? Fifteen per cent of those local authorities have a part strategy, so most local authorities do not have a strategy. What are you going to do about that now?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The guidance is saying "You should assess the needs and then produce, thereby, a definition of what you want to preserve and what extra you need."

  498. What is going to change from how things are now to the immediate future, not looking ahead to years when this new legislation materialises?
  (Ms Keeble) There is a higher priority placed in this PPG on the process that we have been describing than there was in the previous one. There are also other means that local authorities can use to improve their parks and open spaces. It does not have to be all an issue of doom and gloom. In terms of existing communities some work has been done and can be done through regeneration of inner city areas, and there has been some extremely positive work done and examples of really good practice which is entirely consistent with all the principles that run through this. I would not accept that it has to be a question of everybody waiting until every last bit is in place. The PPG will give it higher priority, other work that is going on in government would also support the thrust of this, and the work that is going on through the Task Force will also deal with some of the detailed policy issues which are missing at present about the open spaces. So I would not accept it all has to be seen as being completely negative at all.

Mr Betts

  499. Can you help me on the issue of standards. The PPG in its current form says that "in determining appropriate levels of provision for their area, they should have regard to standards of provision recommended by sports' governing bodies, the National Playing Fields Association, and other recreational interest groups". How do we ensure, first of all, that local authorities are going to do this, bearing in mind that 40 have not produced a plan for their areas in general terms, let alone got down to that sort of detail? At the same time, one of the issues that has been related back to us by witnesses is that in doing this there has to be some flexibility; different areas will have different needs and they are going to meet those needs in different ways. Therefore, perhaps the very formulaic approach of the National Playing Fields Association, which I think was laid down in 1938, has really got to be moved on in time and looked at in a more modern light. How are we going to get this requirement and get some flexibility as well?
  (Ms Keeble) That was part of the discussion we had previously. There is an issue about standards and whether they are appropriate. It is extremely important that minimum standards should not become maximum standards. However, as I said before, you have to trade that off against a requirement to provide at least some benchmarks for the kind of access to open space that you would expect the most disadvantaged communities to have, living in most built-up areas. That is one of the issues, along with the planning issue, that is going to be looked at by working group 4 of the Task Force. There is then an issue about whether you go for the very kind of formulaic approach that the National Playing Fields had, which is (a) out of date and (b) you can provide the amount of space per thousand population and still leave some communities with access to absolutely nothing. So that is where you might want to consider that, or consider whether you say so many minutes' travel time from home, or so many minutes' walking distance from home and take that kind of approach. You would have to be extremely careful that other areas do not pare down their provision. Obviously, within that, you still have to make sure that you have the range of different facilities that are needed. Once we have the proposals from the working group for the Task Force, that would obviously be something that PPG would then have to look at as to whether you have an established standard or whether, as in the case of Sport England, you have a variety of different benchmarks which local authorities can take into account when deciding what is right for their area.

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