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

Supplementary memorandum by Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) (PPG 26(a))



  As part of its contribution to HM Treasury's current cross-cutting review on improving the public space (being carried out as part of the 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review) CABE has submitted ideas for how local and central government can contribute to achieving high standards in the design and management of public space.

  Formulating ideas about these topics has necessitated some thought about definitions. As the consultation paper on revisions to PPG 17 itself notes, open space has been defined in legislation, but in a way that is too exclusive to accommodate all of what is commonly regarded as open space. [1]Non-legislative definitions have naturally tended to be wider. A recent definition has proposed that open space is "any unbuilt land within the boundary of a village, town or city which provides, or has the potential to provide, environmental, social and/or economic benefits to communities, whether direct or indirect".[2]

  Equally, there is no universally accepted definition of public space[3]. For the purposes of its work for HM Treasury, CABE has defined public space as "space that is normally accessible to the public and from which private ownership of land is excluded in the interest of a public good".

  This accommodates two concepts that recur in discussions about public space: the concept of accessibility and the concept of public value.

  On the first point, CABE's working definition of public space excludes space that is not accessible to the public at any time, but it does not require public access to be unlimited; public gardens, for example, may be locked at night and there are other areas, such as the foyers of public buildings, that are normally but not always accessible to the public.

  On the second point, the definition also implies that some public benefit—not necessarily material—derives from public space. This does not necessarily mean that it is actively managed and maintained; some space that is entirely unmanaged may be used by the public as, for example, an informal recreation area. But for the term "public space" to be applied meaningfully, there must be some social, environmental or even economic value (actual or potential) accruing to the public from the space's existence. In this sense, public space must in some way deliver aspirations and contribute to public amenity.

  The definition places public space as something qualitatively different from open space, although the two may and often will overlap. The key difference is that open space can in CABE's view be privately owned, can offer no or very limited access to the public; and can exist independently of whether benefit accrues to the public from its existence.

1   The consultation paper states that "while open space is defined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as land laid out as a public garden, or used for the purpose of public recreation, or land which is a disused burial ground, there are other kinds of public and private open space. This guidance is intended to apply to all types of open space of public value". Revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 17 Sport, Open Space and Recreation-Consultation Paper DTLR (2001) Back

2   Kit Campbell Associates (2001) Rethinking Open Space, Open Space Provision and Management: A Way Forward. A Report for the Scottish Executive Central Research Unit Back

3   As is evident from recent research commissioned by DTLR, Literature Review of Public Space and Local Environment for the Cross-Cutting Review, Oxford Centre for Sustainable Development (2001) Back

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