Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Third Report


1. Urban open space[2] is a key indicator of the prosperity and well-being of urban areas and makes a fundamental contribution to the attractiveness of towns and cities as places to live, work and play. Open spaces affect everyone[3] and can be enjoyed by everyone. They are particularly important in densely populated urban areas where private gardens are small or non-existent and the countryside is not easily accessible.[4] We were told that:

"actually green space in urban areas has a deeper importance, that it provides a green lung for the city and webs of green space are very important for future economic and social well-being"[5]

The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) Minister for Urban Policy, Sally Keeble MP, observed that:

 "Parks, play areas and green spaces enrich people's lives. They promote lifelong learning and healthy living, combat disadvantage, encourage community enterprise and social inclusion and help re-generate urban communities".[6]

2. The benefits of open space are, however, severely compromised if the spaces become run down. Moreover, parks, play areas and green space will only bring the advantages highlighted by the Minister if they are of a high quality, well managed and maintained, located in the right place, accessible, fit for purpose, safe and attractive. Unfortunately, much open space is in a bad state. Some amounts to unpleasant wasteland.[7] English Heritage summarised the findings of the Public Park Assessment, a survey of the state of our parks:

"the loss of features associated with historic parks like fountains, cafes and toilets is widespread, and ..... this decline looks set to continue. Sport and recreation facilities such as boating, paddling pools, tennis courts, golf and putting are also disappearing. In all, 39 percent of parks and open spaces are in decline."[8]

3. There are two principal reasons for the continuing decline in the quality of spaces. The first is a lack of money that can be traced back to the inclusion since 1974 of parks amongst the responsibilities of local authority recreation and leisure departments. Since then grounds maintenance budgets have declined in relation to other leisure activities and leisure has lost out to other areas, notably education and social services.

Helen Woolley, a Director of the Urban Parks Forum, told the Committee:

 "Over a period of twenty years there has been an ongoing decline in the money spent on urban parks. As you know from the report,[9] 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 the setting up of the task force, such a decline still continues".[10]

The second reason is the lack of co-ordination between planners and managers. One witness told us:

"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".[11]

Planners tend to plan for small areas of green space or sports facilities and make provision for the protection of existing space and facilities. Unfortunately management and maintenance have rarely been a consideration.

4. Following the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's Report on Town and Country Parks,[12] in November 2000 the Government announced a number of measures in its Urban White Paper (Our towns and cities: the future - Delivering an urban renaissance).[13] The Urban Parks Forum (UPFor) was given a substantial grant. An Urban Green Spaces Task Force (UGSTF) was established and given a remit to advise the Government on its proposals for improving the quality of urban parks, play areas and green spaces.[14] To address the problem of the poor state of open space and recreation facilities the Urban White Paper (Our towns and cities: the future - delivering an urban renaissance) promised new planning guidance on open space, sport and recreation.[15] It specifically referred to 'parks, play areas and public spaces', recognising that they were "vital to enhancing the quality of urban environments and the quality of our lives".[16] Objectives for a revised Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 17 were also set out as follows:

"We will...revise Planning Policy Guidance Note 17: Sport and Recreation to give local authorities a clearer framework for assessing their needs for open spaces, making good deficiencies and protecting what is valued, and ensuring that everyone has adequate access to open space. It will also aim to ensure that existing spaces are protected from development where appropriate and that new open spaces are well designed".[17]

In Annex 1 we publish our assessment of how the revised draft meets its Urban White Paper Objectives.[18] We conclude below that it fails to meet these objectives.

5. The first PPG 17, entitled 'Sport and Recreation', was issued in 1991. The main reasons for the revision of PPG 17 were stated by DTLR in its memorandum:

 "The earlier PPG 17 was issued before the key issue of sustainable development was recognised as the central tenet of the planning system".[19]

The Department also highlighted the need to:

"focus on the contribution that planning policies, especially those for open space and sport, could make towards achieving the Government's broader objectives to promote an urban renaissance".[20]

6. Given the interest which our predecessor Committee had shown in green spaces in towns and cities through its reports on Town and Country Parks, Cemeteries and Allotments,[21] the Committee was concerned that the draft PPG received an overwhelming volume of criticism. The large majority of the 419 respondents to the Department's consultation expressed serious objections to the draft. Four Government Agencies (English Heritage, Sport England, English Nature and Countryside Agency), wrote a joint letter to Lord Falconer the Minister for Planning, Housing, Urban Policy, Regeneration and Neighbourhood Renewal, voicing their disappointment that they had not been consulted on the redrafting of the PPG and highlighting their concerns at what they saw as a "missed opportunity" .[22] We also found it surprising that the PPG was re-drafted before the Urban Green Spaces Task Force had reported.

7. In view of this criticism and the importance of the subject of sport, open space and recreation, the Committee decided to undertake an inquiry. Because of the centrality of open space in achieving an urban renaissance, we decided to focus mainly on this aspect of PPG 17, although we are well aware that, as Sport England told us, "Sport makes a major contribution to society in policy areas such as health, education, quality of life, tackling crime and social inclusion".[23] In July 2001, we set out the terms of reference of our inquiry as follows:

—  The contribution of the revised PPG to strategic planning for sport, open space and recreation.

—  The contribution of the PPG to the provision of high quality new open spaces and sports opportunities.

—  The extent to which the revised PPG is successful in addressing the newly included subject of open space and reconciling it with sport and recreation.

—  The extent to which the revised PPG's treatment of open space will contribute to the urban renaissance, the protection and improvement of open space and improved living environments.

—  The contribution of the PPG to achieving the Government's aspirations on urban parks and play provision as set out in the Urban White Paper.[24]

The Committee would like to thank all those who submitted evidence to the Committee. We also express our appreciation of the work of Kit Campbell of Kit Campbell Associates and David Lambert of the Garden History Society, our specialist advisers.

2   Urban open space is defined for the purpose of this report as both green and hard surfaced space Back

3   The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's Report on Town and Country Parks recognised the importance of parks to the environment, health and relaxation, play, entertainment, community spirit, education and the urban economy and stated in its conclusions and recommendations: "We believe that parks are key features in the renaissance of our urban areas" Twentieth Report, 1998-99, Town and Country Parks (HC 477-I) para 56 Back

4   This is especially important as Government policy (set down in PPG3) is to move away from suburban development and to encourage urban development  Back

5   Q 31 Back

6   Sally Keeble MP, Minister for Urban Policy, DTLR, in her foreword to the Interim report of The Urban Green Spaces Task Force Green Spaces, Better Places November 2001 DTLR para 5 Back

7   "There is ample evidence (TCP Inquiry, Public Parks Assessment 2001) to show a sharp decline in the funding, quality and value of urban parks and green spaces that undermines the protection and enhancements sought by the planning system" PPG07(a). Back

8   PPG06 para 10 Back

9   Public Park Assessment Final Report, May 2001, Urban Parks Forum and DTLR Back

10   Q 369 Back

11   Q 363 Back

12   Twentieth Report , 1998-99, Town and Country Parks (HC 477-I) Back

13   November 2000, Cm4911 Back

14   Green Spaces, Better Places, Interim Report of The Urban Green Spaces Task Force. p.10, para 1. November 2001 Back

15   November 2000, Cm4911 Back

16   Urban White Paper, Chapter 4, para 1 Back

17   Urban White Paper, Chapter 4, para 1 Back

18   Our towns and cities: the future - Delivering an urban renaissance November 2000, Cm4911 Back

19   PPG17, 2.2 Back

20   PPG17, 2.2 Back

21   Eighth Report, 1997-98, The Future for Allotments (HC560 - I), Twentieth Report, 1998-99, Town and Country Parks (HC477-I), Fifth Report, 2000-01, Cemeteries (20HC91 - I) Back

22   Letter to Lord Falconer from Countryside Agency, English Nature, English Heritage and Sport England. This identified the PPG's failure to address ongoing management problems, a lack of long term and detailed guidance for local authorities, lack of standards to work from, inconsistent definitions and terminology, lack of clarity as to how the PPG complements other Government initiatives (such as the Urban White Paper) and recommendations from previous Select Committee Reports, little acknowledgement of the role of agencies in supporting the PPG's implementation Back

23   PPG14 Back

24   Our towns and cities: the future - Delivering an urban renaissance, November 2000, Cm 4911 Back

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