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


50. This inquiry was held in response to widespread alarm at the failings of the draft revision to PPG 17. In particular, there was dismay, expressed at length by the more than four hundred respondents to the consultation draft, at the painfully apparent "bolting on" of open space to the original PPG on sport and recreation. The Committee, as should be clear from its previous inquiries on urban open space, such as allotments, parks and cemeteries, has a long-standing interest in this subject, and we share many of the concerns expressed. The state of open space in our towns and cities remains a serious blight, diminishing the quality of life of their citizens. Unfortunately, this PPG fails to fulfil the expectations generated by the Urban White Paper.[123] The draft is seriously flawed. Open space is not an add-on to recreation; it is where recreation and sport and many other informal and social activities take place: it should thus be the main subject of the report to which the various activities it accommodates are subservient. The haste with which open space has been tacked on is all too clear; it was ludicrous for example for DTLR to have proposed, as it did originally, that the PPG be published in advance of the conclusions of the Government's Urban Green Spaces Task Force. Other major shortcomings are the woefully lax use of terms such as formal and informal open space, the confusion of open space with sport and recreation facilities, and - given the advances in the past decade in understanding of the public realm and the urban environment - the lack of any definitions of open space other than the perfunctory words contained in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

51. We are pleased that in response to the criticisms, the Government has agreed both to revise the PPG and to wait for the report of the Green Spaces Task Force before it does so. However, the changes which Ministers proposed when they appeared before the Committee were inadequate. The revised PPG must

—  recognise the fundamental importance, over and above sport and recreation, of open space, to the Government's wider objectives for the urban renaissance and the quality of life;

—  emphasise the link between planning and management of open space; management may not be a planning issue but sustainability is, and unless planning takes into account the need to achieve good quality maintenance for new and existing open space, the contribution which open space can make to towns and cities is severely reduced;

—  indicate the overriding importance of existing spaces and their quality to the urban environment; the need to enhance them and the role of the planning system in achieving this;

—  indicate that new open spaces and facilities should not be created unless there has been an assessment of local need and unless there are the funds now and in the future to maintain them;

—  give clear guidance on how planning obligations can be used to bring about the enhancement of existing open space;

—  include a requirement that local authorities prepare open space strategies;

—  give much clearer guidance in accompanying process guidance on what should be addressed in an open spaces strategy, including the assessment of needs for open spaces, sport and recreational facilities, guidance on typologies, networks and hierarchies, standards and community participation;

—  acknowledge in its accompanying Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment the resource implication for local authorities in fulfilling the role which we and the Government expect them to play.

If the revisions which we propose are made, the new PPG can make a significant contribution to an urban renaissance.

52. In her appearance before the Committee, the Minister, Sally Keeble told us that the PPG would be revised following the final Report of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force. We welcome this statement.

List of Recommendations

(a)  The Committee recommends that the PPG be redrafted to emphasise more clearly its role in achieving an urban renaissance by greater emphasis on:

 a.  quality;

 b.  the creation of a network of green spaces;

 c.  the wider uses of informal spaces, for example, to provide places for wildlife to flourish; and

 d.  the management and maintenance of open space and facilities; (paragraph 19).

(b)  The Committee recommends that the PPG be renamed "Open Space, Sport and Recreation" so as to give greater emphasis to open space and logically to reflect the importance of this land use (paragraph 20).

(c)  We endorse strongly the requirement in the draft revision of PPG 17 that planning authorities should draw up comprehensive and locally-determined standards of provision. Related to this, we also recommend that, in the final version, the Government make absolutely clear that it does not endorse the continued use of national standards. We regard the comment to this effect in the DTLR's Memorandum to our Inquiry as admirably clear and recommend that it should be included in the PPG (paragraph 30).

(d)  The Committee recommends that the PPG be redrafted to create a better framework for planning by providing:

a.  better guidance on the assessment of need with a greater emphasis on accessibility;

b.  a clearly defined typology of open spaces (hard landscapes - squares, roads, parks; green spaces; and recreational facilities - formal sports facilities and informal areas, including those for children's play), together with guidance on how to create a locally agreed hierarchy of open spaces;

 c.  specification of what design criteria should be applied when planning new developments, or enhancing existing ones;

and by requiring local authorities to:

d.  create locally agreed standards for open space that include standards of accessibility linked to the needs of different age and social groups;

e.  create open space strategies, following a needs assessment and setting of local standards; these strategies would relate need to existing provision, taking account of the available resources; and should, in turn, inform development plans;

f.  include locally agreed standards and open space strategies in development plans.

The Committee recommends:

g.  the publication of a companion document to provide more detailed process guidance (paragraph 33).

(e)  We recommend that the PPG be redrafted to give better protection to existing open space by:

a.  giving more emphasis to the need to prevent deterioration of quality of existing of space;

b.  revising and clarifying the policy of land exchange;

c.  requiring planning authorities to consult Sport England when there are proposals which would affect playing fields of 0.2 hectares or more.

The Committee also recommends that:

d.  the reporting mechanism for publishing monthly information on playing pitch disposal be implemented immediately (paragraph 39).

(f)  We are disappointed that the draft PPG 17 does not adequately meet the recommendations the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee made, which the Government agreed to, to retain historic sites for fairs and encourage the creation of new sites in places where they do not exist (paragraph 40).

(g)  While we deprecate in general the suburbanisation of the urban fringe, in particular by the movement of sports' fields and other facilities from inner urban areas to the green belt, we do understand that there are certain activities which need to take place on the urban fringe. Accordingly, we recommend that in redrafting the PPG the Government take account of the need to provide for such activities, in particular winter quarters for travelling fairs and the provision of stables (paragraph 41).

(h)  The Committee recommends that:

a.  local authorities be given sufficient funds to allow them to spend more on, and have the staff to see to, the management of open spaces in their care; without this nothing will change;

b.  as part of the reform of the planning system, the Government permit funds arising from planning obligations to be used for the enhancement, management and maintenance of off-site facilities and open space; whatever takes the place of section 106 agreements should be used in ways which are transparent and consistent to give greater clarity to developers;

c.  the New Opportunities Fund increase spending on open space (in line with the Urban White Paper) rather than cutting spending as the Transforming Communities Initiative proposes; and

d.  the Urban Green Spaces Task Force consider the desirability and feasibility of establishing an advocate and champion for urban open space spaces, which will need significant resources and a status comparable to that of a Non-Departmental Public Body (paragraph 49).

(i)  The Minister, Sally Keeble told us that the PPG would be revised following the final Report of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force. We welcome this statement (paragraph 52).

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

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