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

Examination of Witness (Questions 517-519)




  517. Can I welcome you to the Committee. Would you like to identify yourself and your team?
  (Mr Caborn) I am Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport, and Niall Mackenzie is my adviser in the department.

  518. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  (Mr Caborn) If I could just say a couple of words, Mr Bennett, by way of introduction and just to put the thing into context, where we, as a department, are coming from. First of all, can I say thank you very much for inviting us to give evidence. It is an opportunity for us to be able to explain to the Committee and, therefore, the House our approach to PPG 17 and what we are trying to achieve from it. It is quite an exciting time in sport at the moment. We are embarking on, probably, one of the biggest investments in sport facilities for many years, both at local level and in our schools. I think the New Opportunities Fund has now given us opportunities; I think three-quarters of a billion pounds is going to be invested in PE and sport in schools, and that is in addition to Sport England's continued investment in community facilities of approximately £120 million a year. Then, on top of that, you have got what is happening with the local authorities, with the sports organisations themselves and, also, with the private sector. Too many of our sports facilities in the country, I think we now acknowledge, are at a very poor level and, indeed, many local authorities are struggling to maintain outdated and decaying facilities at, sometimes, great cost to themselves. So investment from the National Lottery is making a difference, but putting that into context, Sport England have estimated that we need to invest something like £2 billion in England into the public sector of swimming pools, and that is to bring them up to the internationally recognised standard, both in terms of length, accessibility and health and safety standards. When you look at that, that is just one area—£2 billion. The estimate is about £10 billion by Sport England for investment into sports facilities to bring us back to where our major competitors are. So to redress that balance we want to ensure there is considerable investment, and that, as I say, is going in, but we also have to make sure it goes along with good planning guidance for sport, open space and recreation. Therefore, the revision of PPG 17 has been long awaited, and I say that as an ex-planning minister, by sporting organisations. Similarly, open spaces groups have also been eagerly awaiting the new document as a tool to help them deliver the Government's Urban Renaissance to our towns and cities. What I cannot understand, Mr Bennett, is why there is this difference now between open spaces and the question of sport, and why it seems to be in competition with one another. I would have thought that in driving the urban renaissance agenda of the Government both of these are equally important and, therefore, not only are they factored into PPG 17 but, also, this is a major guide for local authorities when they are making their needs assessment of the provisions at the local level. Therefore, I think it is very clear that there needs to be a wider address to these issues within PPG 17 and I know that DTLR, along with my department, will be taking that very seriously indeed. I firmly believe that we cannot have sport without open spaces, and I say that as the Sports Minister. Both need to exist together if our ultimate goal is to achieve quality of life for people in this country. The key to development of suitable sustainable open spaces and sports facilities are assessments of local needs for open spaces and sports facilities including playing fields. Just as sport and open spaces must exist in partnership, government departments cannot hope to deliver effective policies that seek to improve the quality of life to our communities without involving co-operation with their counterparts across Whitehall. I was interested in the back end of the questioning there. I am very pleased to say that my department is working very closely now with DTLR on the revision of PPG 17 and the great number of areas where we have mutual interest and, indeed, influence. We will continue to develop these relationships across Government and indeed beyond that. Sport England, of course, has a long-standing relationship with my department and plays a crucial part in the delivery of sport strategy and the delivery of sport in this country. I therefore welcome the fact that DTLR are forging much stronger links with Sport England to ensure that their expertise in sports planning is being shared. Indeed, Sport England are also very happy indeed to share their expertise—and I say this to put it on the record—with local authorities and, indeed, people who want that type of advice. I think far too many times they try to reinvent the wheel. There is a wealth of expertise there that ought to be tapped and used. Very briefly, we want to see out of PPG 17, first and foremost, a relevant, informed, planning tool which enables local authorities to plan sensibly for sport, informal recreation and open spaces which can actually deliver the needs of their communities. I want to see local authorities using the guidance pro-actively for using sport, recreation and open spaces as delivery mechanisms to address the issues of economic and social regeneration; for improving the health of the local communities and tackling social exclusion or, indeed, simply just increasing participation and the enjoyment of sport, recreation and the outdoor environment for its own sake. That, I believe very genuinely, improves the quality of life for all. It is also important that we do not expect too much of the PPGs and I realise that PPGs alone will not deliver all the solutions to the current problems, but they are a very important tool along with the type of investment that we are putting in, and they also need to be accompanied, Mr Bennett, with a best practice guide and continuing advice and support from organisations like Sport England. I also want to ensure that PPG can be delivered in a realistic timetable. I think it is very important that the deliberations of your Committee and the Open Spaces Task Force, if they do report in the early part of next year then we would like to see, and I know my DTLR colleagues would like to see, the revised PPG17 by the spring of next year. I think it is important because we will be embarking, as I said, on a multi-million pound investment programme into sport facilities which will be, to some extent, conditioned by the new PPG17. That is why it is important we get it out sooner rather than later, taking cognisance, Mr Bennett, of your deliberations which we always take very seriously indeed and indeed the Open Spaces Task Force as well.

Mrs Ellman

  519. Both Sport England and English Heritage have written to Lord Falconer saying that they see revised PPG17 as a huge missed opportunity. You represent their sponsoring department, do you agree with that?
  (Mr Caborn) I think I did agree with that probably before we started having dialogue in a more detailed and informed way. I think that we have now changed that. As my colleague just said previously, Sport England have been invited to the Open Spaces Task Force. I have been having dialogue with my two ministerial colleagues and I think we are now coming to an understanding, better dialogue and indeed looking at the bigger picture to see how we can develop indeed deliver government policies in a more effective way. I think the revised PPG17 will be one that we are proactive to and one that we can assist.

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