WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
Andrew F Bennett, in the Chair
Examination of Witness
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, and MS SALLY KEEBLE MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, examined.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Charles Falconer, Minister of Planning, Housing and Regeneration. This is Sally Keeble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions with responsibility for planning and housing and also with specific responsibility for green space. She is the Chairman of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force and has day to day responsibility for the development of PPG17.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I say very briefly a few words and then we will go to questions? As has been made clear in earlier evidence sessions by officials, it is government policy to promote and preserve good leisure, including sports, open spaces and leisure facilities. Land use planning has got a crucial role in developing and implementing that strategy. Local authorities should develop local strategies as an integral part of their community strategies for sports, leisure and open space. Land use planning is only one method by which government policy is delivered but it is an important one in this case. The aim of the draft PPG is to ensure that sports, green space and recreational facilities are no longer the Cinderella of the planning system but something which the local authority focuses on in determining what the needs for the area are so that one can determine what should be preserved and what further facilities should be promoted. The document that we are looking is only a draft. This Committee and other people have identified a number of weaknesses in the document: lack of clarity, insufficient joining up with other parts of the system, lack of connection with the planning gain system, insufficient involvement of the community. Many of the issues that are identified are criticisms of the planning system as a whole and they will be addressed in the Green Paper on planning that is coming in the course of next month, though I am perfectly happy to discuss them in the context of PPG17 today. Both before and after PPG17 the purpose of the final document is to ensure that the system preserves and promotes good sporting and other leisure facilities and open green spaces. Subject to you, Mr Chairman, I propose that Sally handles matters covered by the detail of the PPG, including the role of assessments and the setting of standards, the protection of open space and sports facilities, and material arising from the Urban Green Spaces Task Force, and I will handle questions about the role of the PPG in the context of the planning system as a whole and any proposals for reform in relation to the planning system.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Let me put that in context. What PPG17 is trying to do is that it is saying that local authorities should define what their needs for all sorts of sports, recreation and green space facilities are. Having assessed what their needs are, both in terms of quality and in terms of quantity, they should then identify what they have already got and what further ones they need. Only once they have done that will they know what should be preserved and what should be sought for the future. If they do that it will be much more easy to promote development in the sort of area that you have identified, and also identify what should be preserved.
(Ms Keeble) In terms of protection, can I point you to paragraph 24 of the PPG which deals with this matter about PPG3? It says that it makes clear that lands, which is parks, recreation grounds, playing fields and allotments, must not be regarded as previously developed land which can be targeted for additional housing development. I think that is quite clear. There is a problem in terms of some of the small informal spaces to which people attach a lot of value but which have not been formally classified as parks, and I am sure lots of people are aware of those. Those are some of the issues which the Task Force is also going to look at. The Task Force is also very interested in some of those small informal areas and the way in which they are used. In terms of the protection, that is specifically dealt with in the PPG.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The guidance as it is is dealing with planning. It is not dealing with maintenance after they have been developed or what is happening to them at the moment. Surely the right way to deal with it is the local authority should identify what it has got at the moment, what it needs to do with what it has got at the moment, not just in planning terms but in maintenance terms as well. That is an issue beyond planning. One of the criticisms that has been made of this document is that it does not adequately connect in with community strategies or strategies that local authorities should have for green space sporting and leisure facilities generally. I think we have to recognise what the limitations of the planning system are. All that they can deal with is whether or not you allow existing facilities to be developed or whether you give permission for new facilities. What the planning system cannot do is determine how facilities are maintained after they are there.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because planning is about determining what you do with land, whether you allow it to be developed. You can help by making decisions about the design of what is proposed to ensure that maintenance would be easy, but I do not think the role of the planning system is to say, "That site is not being maintained properly. Therefore we intervene in some way."
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to design issues where an application for development is made I think the planning system has got a role to play and setting quality standards for sports, recreational and green space facilities is something the planning system can do. Mr Betts's question I understood was about -----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I agree with that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I entirely agree with that. That is why good design is something one should focus on in relation to planning and if and in so far as I was suggesting that planning had no part to play in determining how things would be maintained afterwards, then I am wrong. Obviously they have got that design aspect, and we should be promoting good design which we hope they will do by producing guidelines and good practice that will accompany PPG17 when it becomes a final rather than a draft document.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Ms Keeble) There are three issues there. One is about the assessments, one is about the space standards and the other is about the quality. In terms of the assessment, there is a large chunk about that in the PPG. It is quite right that local authorities should assess local needs and that should be in terms of sporting needs, and also recreational needs and the needs of people like in Tower Hamlets simply to have a bit of green grass and a bit of open space. It is quite right that they should make those assessments in the light of their local circumstances. There are then issues about space standards. Sport England has done a lot of discussion around that and have opened up the whole issue about the kind of standards for sporting facilities. Where there are no space standards are on the recreational and open space, more general requirements for a local community. There is the old playing fields one which is a bit formulaic and in some ways not terribly helpful. What one of the working parties of the Task Force, and in fact your Committee adviser is on it, will be looking at is the possible space standards for open spaces and seeing if we can produce something that will ensure that there is some sort of minimum guideline that people can work to although there is an issue there about whether it is acres per population or whether you say it is so many minutes' walk from where people live. There are two different approaches to that and I suspect that the second will be more useful. In terms of the quality, obviously again Sport England has got particular views and advice to give about the quality of sporting facilities. There is a real issue in terms of the quality of open space and recreational facilities and play areas and things like that for children in particular, but also for people with disabilities and other groups, and that is one of the things that the Task Force is looking at and is particularly concerned about, that it is not just a question of having the amount of space. It is whether it is usable space, it is whether there are the kinds of facilities there that will provide a good quality experience and constructive things for people to do in the green open spaces.
(Ms Keeble) That is obviously one of the key problems about having a minimum standard, that it does tend to become a maximum. However, you have to set against that the fact that at present, for example, for spaces like Tower Hamlets, there is nothing that says whether the people living there should be able to access any green space, and since a lot of them live in flats they are not going to have back gardens, so there are real issues, I think, about saying should we look at making sure that there is some kind of a standard or benchmark set which is an improvement on the old playing fields one which will deal with some of the access issues and with issues of disadvantage.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a complaint about the planning system, is it not, at the moment, which is that the planning system does not connect in enough with other policy?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One of the issues that the planning Green Paper will address is how do you connect what the land use planning system is doing with things like community strategies for local authorities, with for example regeneration proposals in a particular area, with, for example, policies in relation to social exclusion? You frequently find for example that there is a regeneration planned in a particular area, yet another part of the local authority, when dealing with planning issues, is pursuing a completely different course. You therefore need, when development plans are being set out in a particular area, to make sure that the development plan is consistent with whatever other policies that land use may affect is consistent with those policies that the local authority are following. Here what you would like would be local authorities to have general policies in relation to the identification and preservation and development of new leisure space, new sports space, reserving green space, maintaining it well, and a land use planning series of policies which exactly reflect that. They would have an overall policy on, say, green space which will include good maintenance and where they want to develop new ones. Their land use planning policies, the local development plan, would reflect them. That is not what happens at the moment.
(Ms Keeble) That comes down to your definition of what you consider to be an open space and a green space. What we take this PPG to refer to, and you can see there is a variety of definitions in the PPG, is that it would be green spaces primarily and spaces that are used for recreational or leisure purposes so it would not include pavements and home zones.
(Ms Keeble) It would include green squares but probably not the paved over squares.
(Ms Keeble) To an extent.
(Ms Keeble) I would call that a green space.
(Ms Keeble) Obviously there is an element of interpretation. However, I would not include within this general paved areas, pavements, home zones, because those are not the areas which by and large require protection under the planning system because they are roads and pavements.
(Ms Keeble) What we are not talking about, for example, is whether or not you turn Piccadilly Circus back to a roundabout. Those are not the issues. This is about creating open space that people can use for a variety of formal and informal recreation and leisure purposes. The Task Force has been looking at definitions of green spaces and those include some quite difficult areas that again people might not automatically think would be included, like on cemeteries which are sometimes used now for some recreational purposes, and wildlife areas and nature areas within towns and areas such as that. But it would not generally include areas which you would regard as streets and roadways.
(Ms Keeble) It is a draft PPG and, as I said, there are some conflicts already in the different definitions included. There is a different one at the bottom of the introduction from what there is a bit higher up so the definitions are obviously something that we will have to clarify.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was doing that by reference to the fact that what Sally is saying is reflecting what has been said all along, that this document needs tightening up and what Mr Pugh is saying about it being a bad idea in a planning document to end up with a legal minefield and debating precisely what the boundaries of the definition are is absolutely right. I hope I reflected that in my opening statement in saying in effect that this document does need some clarification.
Chairman: I am just keen to get your eyebrows on the record.
(Ms Keeble) It is certainly the case that there are types of green spaces that have a much stronger lobby about them and I think the well established traditional parks and sporting facilities have a much stronger protection than some of the smaller informal areas which are highly valued by the community, well used and need to be protected and developed. Those are some of the issues that the Task Force is looking at.
(Ms Keeble) Absolutely not. If you are talking specifically about the PPG the sporting lobby is also critical of the PPG and I do think that there is some difficulty, and again this needs to be sorted out before we get the final PPG, of making absolutely clear that there are different types of green spaces and open spaces and make clear how each one is valued and how the different types should be dealt with so that it is clear that we protect the small spaces as well as the larger ones and also that we are able to look at developing the smaller spaces and creating the smaller spaces and not just the larger ones.
(Ms Keeble) What we need to make sure of is that there is proper provision for the smaller neighbourhood open space as well as the larger traditional ones. The reality is that in a lot of developments the inclusion of the small spaces is particularly important.
(Ms Keeble) I think the PPG could be clearer about the different types of open space and the way in which they should be assessed and should be used.
(Ms Keeble) What the PPG makes clear is that if a development proposal comes along for a piece of land which is not currently used which might be one of these informal spaces, assessments can be made of the use that is made of that space and whether or not it should be built on and how that space should then be used. What you are talking about is what should local authorities do about small spaces which are not used and can become an environmental problem. I think that is for the local authority to look at its land use more generally. It is not about what happens in terms of when an application comes along for the use fo a particular piece of land.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There certainly is a separation between the two in the way it is administered. Planning is dealt with in local authorities entirely separately from the delivery of services that will include the maintenance of public spaces. There has plainly got to be some separation between the two because the planning function is different and has particular obligations that have to be delivered. There has to be a joint understanding between the two bits of the local authority as to what the basic objectives are in relation to open space and recreational facilities.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there should be guidance about planning policies connecting in with the broader policies for local authorities and anybody else responsible for recreational space and I think that is an important issue to develop in the planning Green Paper. It is difficult to see what further guidance one could think of to say what role the planning department should play by reference to as it were the maintenance department of the local authority.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because the improvement in relation to management will be very important in determining what you have already got in the local authority area. One of the things that PPG is specifically identifying is that you have to assess need and you can only assess need by identifying what you have got and how usable it is.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously considerations should be given to how it should be maintained and local authorities should be encouraged as much as possible to maintain them as much as possible. There is a cross-cutting review going on preparatory to the comprehensive spending review which across government will be looking at how you ensure that open space is well managed and you want to give as much guidance as you can in relation to that. The message I am trying to get across is that planning departments and local authorities as a whole should have a joint aim in relation to what they are seeking to produce in relation to the management of green space.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to the maintenance of green space - can you tell me the bit you are referring to there?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we are seeking to do is to try to shorten as much as possible the material like PPG17 which is actually the material considerations in relation to planning.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) By shortening it we hope to clarify it. The principles should be clear.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are connected but they are not necessarily synonymous.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In addition to clarifying it and shortening it we will also seek to produce guidance which will not have the same status in the planning system but will help local authorities deliver the aims. For example, in relation to PPG3 which is the housing national guidance, that is a much shorter documents than other similar documents but it has got something that goes with it which is in effect a guidance as to how local authorities can implement it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The 800 pages of guidance includes PPG3 but does not include the help that goes with it. Really what you want local authorities to do is to focus on the basic principles, give the help in relation to how they do it by guides like that which goes with PPG3.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Ms Keeble) ---- deal with some of the waste management issues? You have got two systems there. One is about local authorities having a plan for their waste management in which they might say they want particular types of waste management; they might say they want a certain percentage landfill, a certain percentage incineration and a certain percentage recycling, and that is their plan. You are quite right that the planning committee has got to be seen to be scrupulously independent of that in terms of when it makes the decision on an individual application, but there is exactly the same type of thing here where the local authority will have, say, a strategy for sports development (or will not have, as the case may be) or they might have a cultural strategy, which would include sport, open spaces and leisure, and things like that. They talk about the type of facilities they want and the type of standards they want and what they hope to achieve through their policy. The local authority will then have a development plan in which it will set out how it wants its land to be used. We are saying - and that is what Chapter 6 of the PPG is about - that is the approach that you want. I think that is what we have been talking about, the approach that they will want about where they want the land to be identified for sites. The individual planning decisions have obviously got to be made on a case-by-case basis and have got to be seen to be independent. However, if you do not have any plan for the type of provision you want, then you will just be at the mercy of what development plans come in.
Sir Paul Beresford: I think there is a bit of recycling going on, but if you look back at Hansard I think you will see that Lord Falconer was being drawn into bringing in a closeness that some of us would be a little bit nervous about.
Chairman: I do not want to spend too much time on incinerators.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In terms of appeal the material consideration would be the PPG 17 itself rather than the accompanying guidance.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am quite sure they would not give up ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I go back to the point Sir Paul was making, which is that what you are trying to join up is the local development plan with other non-planning strategies of a local authority. When it comes to particular applications, there has got to be complete propriety about that planning application being considered in accordance with all the appropriate planning laws by the planning committee. The fact that you have got a local Development Plan which is consistent with your other wider policy strategy does not mean that planning law goes out of the window; far from it, it simply means that in using the land use system you may reflect what you wish to achieve in other areas.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) After PPG 17 becomes final, if you have a needs assessment which reflects what facilities you wish to preserve and what new facilities you want, that would then become a material factor in determining whether or not to grant planning permission for, for example, development on an existing facility or development of a new facility.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, that would be a reason. Indeed, what PPG 17 is saying, for example, is that once it becomes a final rather than a draft, if you, as a local authority, have not done your assessment then no application which involves developing on existing recreational facilities shall be allowed, and that would be a material factor for refusing it. That is what it is saying, because it is saying "If you have not shown what the needs in the particular area are and, therefore, you cannot show that the particular recreational facility is surplus to those requirements then you should not, as a developer, be allowed to develop on that, because you cannot tell it is surplus to requirements."
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There would certainly be a temptation to that effect. In 1991 there was a similar document which - and these are not the exact words - said it would be helpful if local authorities produced strategies in relation to sports, recreational and open space facilities. This is now saying, in effect, they have got to do it, they should do it. It is turning up the volume because it is intending that this now becomes a requirement for local authorities. I cannot guarantee that every local authority will do it. There is a requirement in earlier legislation for local authorities to produce local development plans and 40 of them still have not, ten years later.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is exactly the point the Chairman is making, which is if you do not do it nothing happens in relation to existing space and you never get any new ones, because the developer does not know whether it is worth applying.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously, I cannot say what the detail of the Planning Green Paper is going to be, but some of the things that the Planning Green Paper will require will be that it will require primary legislation, subject to consultation. Obviously, we would have to consider that issue but it is probably wrong not to produce further guidance after we have consulted on PPG 17 because to wait for wholesale reform would be to wait too long. This has been cooking for some time. Basically, delaying it for a long time because of a more wide-scale reform would not strike me as sensible, if what you are trying to achieve is basically better recreational, sports, green space facility issues.
(Ms Keeble) That is one of the things which the Green Spaces Task Force has done. We have got the interim report coming out, in fact, tomorrow and that will include some of the work so far. It includes urban open space, a mixture of public and private, formal and informal landscape and that is dealing with all the hard surface areas - the issues we were talking about earlier - and the urban green spaces including the wider range of types of spaces. So that should be published tomorrow. The final report will only be next April.
(Ms Keeble) No, the PPG is going to be also after the final report.
(Ms Keeble) Yes.
(Ms Keeble) The Green Space Task Force?
(Ms Keeble) That report officially goes to government and then, obviously, there has got to be a policy statement coming out of that. The one that comes out tomorrow will be interim work looking at particular subject areas. The final report will have recommendations on a whole range of issues about protecting green spaces, and it is urban green space.
(Ms Keeble) Formally, that should come out of the department after we have got the Task Force report.
(Ms Keeble) It will be after next April.
(Ms Keeble) I have to say I think the Task Force has done its work quite remarkably quickly, given the scale of the job there is to do. I think that it is quite right, given that there is something of a need for some good policies in this area, to look carefully at what the range of people on the Task Force have to say - it is a wide range of people with a wide range of expertise - and take the best advice on what is the best practice and come up with some good policies.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we have heard in the process of preparing for the Green Paper is people saying that a lot of time goes into producing development plans at local authority level, it takes so long to do that, by the time it is done it is often inconsistent with either regional planning guidance or national planning guidance that has been produced, leading to great confusion as to what the detail of the planning requirement in a particular area is. One way of seeking to deal with that is to try to reduce as much as it is reasonably possible to do the quantum of guidance there is from the centre on national planning policies. That is a task that does not require legislation and is a task that can be, in effect, embarked upon as much as possible. If you look at a lot of the national policy guidance, quite a lot of it is unclear as to whether it is just best practice or whether it is basic principles which should be applied. What we are going to try and do is shorten it to focus, as much as possible, on the basic principles and as little as possible on the best practice. So you know where you stand.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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?"
(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?"
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am stepping back from the word "bribe".
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. Contribution to the community in the light of the development.
Mrs Dunwoody: Is that a legal definition?
(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.
(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.
(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."
(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
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think that is fair at all.
(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.
(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.
(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."
(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.
(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.
(Ms Keeble) I get the assumption that local authorities are not going to act in the best interests of their communities, which I have to say I would not accept. Whilst some might fail for a number of reasons to provide the kind of plans we have been talking about, I would not accept that they would wilfully go against the interests of their own community actually. I think, also, that the higher profile and the more emphasis that is given nationally on these issues then the more encouragement there is for them to improve their provision.
(Ms Keeble) I would not say that is true, actually.
(Ms Keeble) The Task Force is going to look at the guidance.
(Ms Keeble) There have been some difficulties previously prior to last year ----
(Ms Keeble) Thank you. It is being looked at now, it is going to be dealt with by one of the working groups and there are active discussions between the department and Sport England. Sport England is represented on the working group of the Task Force which is looking at PPG 17. Sport England is also going to be represented now on the Task Force itself, and I know there have been discussions between the department and Sport England about the PPG because I think I have been involved in them. So it is the case that there are discussions going on. They are all joined up.
(Ms Keeble) There is discussion. Sport England is represented on the Task Force - both on the working group looking at PPG 17 and on the Task Force itself. Sport England is also talking to officials actively about the PPG and about some of the wording and some of the emphasis. The issue about the size of the spaces is obviously going to be a difficult one to decide. What I will just say is that in terms of the Task Force one of the issues that we are looking at is the issue of smaller spaces, as you might have gathered, and I think if we are looking at smaller spaces we have to look at smaller spaces in terms of play as well as smaller spaces in terms of sport and see what is appropriate for protection of smaller spaces - be they used for sport or for different types of activity.
(Ms Keeble) That promise has been kept. It is page 14, paragraph 2.
(Ms Keeble) "As a community resource, as a place for congregating for holding community events or periodic activities such as fetes and travelling fairs".
Mrs Dunwoody: Gosh, that is strong. Nobody is going to ignore that.
(Ms Keeble) We have not got winter quarters. I take that point. I would, also, I think, take the inference that you might feel that reference could be strengthened.
Mrs Dunwoody: Ever so slightly. It might have, perhaps, a whole sentence to itself.
(Ms Keeble) I am sure it is. I was thinking about the actual policies. Were you concerned about a particular aspect?
(Ms Keeble) Yes, there is an issue about provision of stadia and built facilities. There is also an issue which has come up, particularly in relation to the green belt, which is about floodlighting as well.
(Ms Keeble) We have argued in this that the decisions around built stadium and about floodlighting are, in particular, the issues about resolving conflict over use of land, and that is, in particular, what the planning process is intended to achieve - in particular the planning control process. So we would argue that there is not inconsistency between the two guidance notes, that it is precisely those types of conflicts which they are intended to resolve.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Ms Keeble) They have to have tools to be able to resolve conflict over the use of space.
(Ms Keeble) That is right. What we have given them is a tool to resolve those particular conflicts, but that is what the decision-making at local level is designed to achieve.
(Ms Keeble) The planning process and making planning decisions is entirely about resolving, often, conflicting views about how particular areas of land should be used.
(Ms Keeble) Yes, but there will still be sharp conflicts about the use of space. Part of the whole debate about this PPG has been about the use of green space and whether it should be used for sports facilities or whether it should be used for play areas and such like. That is one of the issues why the debate around this PPG has been quite sharp. In terms of the green belt and the protection of it, there is inconsistency between the guidance here and the green belt policy.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The green belt guidance document, PPG 2, does says it is not inappropriate on the green belt to build essential facilities for sport and recreation, and that point is echoed in PPG 17. So the draft of PPG 17 is simply trying to pick up what the green belt PPG says as well.
(Ms Keeble) If I can just add, there is also some very tough guidance in here about the assessments that should be made about locations of stadium, even in green field let alone green belt areas, and that it should not have the enabling development if that can be placed elsewhere, despite the pressures of financial support. So it is quite tough on the location of built stadiums.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There certainly are, yes.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON RICHARD CABORN, a Member of the House, (Minister of State for Sport) and MR NIALL MACKENZIE, Head of Economics and International Branch, Sport and Recreation Division, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, examined.
(Mr Caborn) I am Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport, and Niall MacKenzie is my adviser in the department.
(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, Sports 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.
(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 the 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.
(Mr Caborn) There are a number which we have drafted, Mr MacKenzie can go through some of those in detail. What we have been saying, first of all, is to take the division out between open spaces and sport facilities. I think an artificial barrier has been driven in for some reason, which I cannot quite understand. I think the decision available to the local authority which is inside the democratic process which underpins the whole of the planning regime in this country, I think that is absolutely wrong. What we have a responsibility to do as government is to try to guide through various PPGs what the government policy is and how we want that delivered but the actual delivery of that will be at a local level. When one looks back, it is about 10 years since there has been a revision of the PPG17, clearly the language was weak, it was not proactive enough and it was not addressing the issues we are facing today.
(Mr Caborn) It might have been on that draft. What we what we are trying to re-draft is a much more proactive document, one that is going to deliver. Against the background of the White Paper on the Urban Task Force, and then the Rogers Report, the urban renaissance that is what we are trying to deliver, the concept within that, whether it be sport or open spaces. I am hoping now that the PPG17, the revised one, its language will be much more proactive in those areas. I am pretty convinced it will be.
(Mr MacKenzie) It is fairly long.
(Mr MacKenzie) We did not have it as formal as that. They are the same sort of issues as earlier.
(Mr MacKenzie) I have not seen your shopping list. I would think it has many of the same issues that the Committee has hit upon. Definition needs to be clearer. There is some very strong language in the text in relation to sport, which was referred to before, by the previous evidence sessions, which we as the drafters know where it is buried but obviously it is hard for those who it is meant to guide to understand.
(Mr MacKenzie) We have specific ideas which we obviously have to discuss with our colleagues in detail to get the wider picture on planning. There is a limit, as the minister has said, to what the planning system can deliver and a balance has to be struck as to where we put the solutions in the planning guidance revised draft of PPG17, where it is best put and best practice guidance and where it is left to individual discussions by advisers such as Sport England with the relevant local authorities.
(Mr Caborn) In terms of the local cultural strategies they were given a very broad remit and I think the cultural strategies were basically there to get an audit of what we have. It is really incredible when you think about it, in terms of the cultural industry and the whole evolvement of cultural policies it was not based upon what people knew were there at that time, therefore it was about an audit. In my Department we discussed it with the chairs of those cultural consortiums, about how we would move forward. In specific terms of the sports facilities and the open spaces I think we would want to make sure that the local authorities do their needs assessment and that is their responsibility in PPG17. This is one of the key areas, it has to be pushing very hard at the local authorities to do their needs assessment for open spaces, for playing fields and for sporting facilities. Once we have the assessment then we can speak to them in a much more effective way than has been the way in the past. I do not think it bears down necessarily on what is required in PPG17. I would not necessarily refer to that.
(Mr Caborn) I think it has to guide a local authority with planning authority at the end of the day to be able to deliver what the government wants in terms of sports and open spaces strategy, that is what it is there to do.
(Mr Caborn) In terms of developing a needs assessment.
(Mr Caborn) I would not disagree with that.
(Mr Caborn) I do not think you can determine that by planning guidance I think that is more about policy. In the terms of playing on a bandstand I do not think that is planning guidance, it is about the facilities that are there.
(Mr Caborn) I think that is true and I think the government can be criticised for not making those linkages across. Let us be clear what the people in the PPGs are there for, the reason they are there is to guide the planning. They cannot resolve all of the problems by planning guidance. You can also have the supporting documentation to that, but then it has to link, as I said, to what we are doing in terms of the investment strategy as well. It is about discussing it with people like Sport England and what they are trying to deliver as far as the broader strategy of sport is concerned, of which planning is part of that, it is not the sole driver of it.
(Mr Caborn) We will get the two things right, the Green Space Initiative is one and the Transforming of the Communities Initiative is the other one. The Transforming of the Community Initiative is a fund of about £159 million. As far as the green space is concerned, as I understand it, there was some concern ---
(Mr Caborn) No, the breakdown of that is £49.5 million for the projects of Quality of Life for Local Community, including the promotion of healthier lifestyles by improving the appearance of the local environment in urban and rural areas. £49.5 million for projects for community waste and recycling. £50 million for projects to assist in regeneration and £10 million for community rehabilitation of drug users, and that is in Scotland. That is the £159 million which I just referred to on transforming communities. As far as the Green Space Initiative is concerned another £125 million.
(Mr Caborn) On the green spaces.
(Mr Caborn) 125 million over --
(Mr MacKenzie) The way the New Opportunities Fund operates is that it has ---
(Mr MacKenzie) No. The New Opportunities Fund the way it operates there is a long lead-in time which is required by the legislation and the policy to widely consult on the best use of the funds. That consultation includes debates in both chambers of the House and enables the New Opportunities Fund to decide on the basis of wide consultation the best allocation caution of its funds. £50 million for green spaces within transforming communities you can argue whether that is big enough or not.
(Mr MacKenzie) My view is that it is a sizeable start. £50 million compared to what has gone before is a significant contribution.
(Mr Caborn) We have three quarters of a billion pounds just going into PE and education, it is not just all about the sports facilities, it is the infrastructure through the local education authorities, obviously the spin-off into that is the communities as well. Then we have the 120 odd million which is being spent by Sport England. As I said a little earlier to the Committee this had been an area massively under invested in.
(Mr Caborn) In that case we try to put these things into their relative position, the relative position is there needs to be on Sport England's estimate £10 billion going to sports facilities to bring them up to the internationally recognised standard. As far as green space is concerned there is that initiative, it has been, some would argue, slow in the action on the ground but I think, and rightly so, the New Opportunities Fund are looking very carefully to make sure it has been into targeted areas. If you just release this, as some were advising we should do, it would have gone to the normal suspects who are very quick on the uptake. This has been very clearly targeted into areas which we believe actually lives within the terms of reference that we were given for the Green Space Initiative.
(Mr Caborn) I do not see it as a failure, I see it as a matter of building up an infrastructure to be able to target those funds. I hope, it is right to criticise and raise the point, as we evolve our further expenditure lines into these areas that that infrastructure is there and we have to target it somewhat quicker than we have done in the past.
(Mr Caborn) I have already done that I can assure you. I meet the New Opportunities Fund every month. I have said in the new development of the 3.5 million I want to see some fast tracking on that. Obviously the bigger the strategic expenditure it needs to have more consideration. I think we now have to be slightly more sophisticated in the dispensing of these funds than we have been before. That is no criticism in the development of funding and the lines of public funds, I think that has been wise, it has been prudent and it is going now to the right targets which we want to hit.
(Mr Caborn) It was a learning curve.
(Mr Caborn) I do not believe that to be the case. I would like to see the evidence for that.
(Mr Caborn) That is a decision that the local authority have to make in its needs assessment. That is exactly what the planning regime is there for, is it not, to make that needs assessment.
(Mr Caborn) One thing that has happened in the whole debate about the urban regeneration and the urban renaissance is it has brought green space and open space much more into the political limelight than it had before. What we have been able to do is to respond as a government to that need by the Green Space Initiative and by the Transforming Communities and that is for the next round of three years. Obviously if that is successful I have no doubt the government will look at how we can invest more money into those areas. I would not want it to be at the expense, quite honestly, in terms of expenditure, of sport. I think there is a crying need in this country to lift green spaces, open spaces, and sports facilities of all kinds because we are way, way behind our major competitors in this. It is something that we as a nation, indeed as a government, we need to continue to invest in. Do not let us rob Peter to pay Paul. I hope that government could be guided through this Select Committee that we need more investment in that.
(Mr Caborn) No, not at all. I am saying this is new money that has come into an arena, an area that has been sadly left behind, it has been brought to light because of what this government has done in bringing out the debate on the urban need and driving, as the deputy Prime Minister put very clearly over the last three to four years, through the Rogers Report, then the Urban White Paper. We brought this to the forefront and now we are investing in what is clearly an area that has been under invested in in the past.
(Mr Caborn) I do not accept there is less spent on green spaces to start with, Mr Bennett, but if the evidence is there, fine, I will be more than pleased to consider that. What I am saying is, there is new money now being invested in green spaces through the various initiatives I have just outlined.
(Mr Caborn) I do not think so. What we have been able to do, first of all, is to say how important open spaces are to the urban renaissance, as indeed how important sport is. It would be wrong to drive an artificial wedge between the two, I think it would do a disservice to both. There needs to be an investment in both financially and it needs to be part of local assessment by the local authorities to make sure that balance is right. They are the people that should be able to do that, they are the people on the ground, as it were. I hope the government policy in the round will be positively encouraging that and PPG17 will be getting another tool in a very proactive way promoting these policies.
(Mr Caborn) I think PPG17 as it stood on the last draft needs to be strengthened, it needs to be more proactive. Again I repeat what I said, I do not think we ought to drive artificial wedges between green spaces and sport. What we want is both to grow in our open areas and also to be of good quality and accessible to people and we need to continue to invest in that. It is about the quality of life and both, I think, create a synergy for that.
(Mr Caborn) I think there is some justification for what Sport England said at that time. After representations through my department there have been a series of meetings, both at official level and ministerial level. I hope that those concerns that Sport England genuinely have are going to be addressed in the final draft. This is part of dialogue, the reason I am here is you are looking at it as a Committee and I hope we will able to get a more proactive PPG17 than we had 10 years ago.
(Mr Caborn) None to the best of my knowledge. It is an area, as you probably know, Mr Betts, that has been a great concern of mine since I was the planning minister. It is a credit to this administration that in 1998 we took action and at least we stopped, to a large extent, the wholesale sell-off of playing fields. I agree with you, the statistical base has been somewhat challengeable and we needed to get that right. I hope by the early part of next year, I mean probably January or February, we will have a proper database of that. I share your concern. It has been raised with my officials and we are now moving, I hope, in the direction where we have a firmer and sound decision base to make decisions on.
(Mr Caborn) We are still working through some of the methodology, I do not know whether Mr MacKenzie would like to add to that.
(Mr MacKenzie) The data already exists, the problem is that there are different kinds of data.
(Mr MacKenzie) No, no. The bulk of the data is already published. There are 33 sets of figures which we have been discussing with the Department for Education, DTLR, the National Playing Fields Association and the Central Council of Physical Recreation. These figures relate to the DFES procedures, whereby local education authorities have to seek DFES approval to dispose or build on playing fields on hard play areas. There are equally the figures compiled by Sport England as part of their role as statutory consultees on all publicly owned playing fields. In addition there are those cases where the DTLR have cases referred to their ministers. These figures are all produced by different time bases and there is double counting and gaps in it. What we are trying to do is produce a comprehensive set of statistics understandable to everyone which meets the concern of the groups such as the NPFA and CCR and that presents it fairly and openly without any bias. On the basis of these figures an informed debate on playing field policy can go forward. We have made substantial progress and we are on the verge of having figures to produce. We are aware it has been too long producing these but we have been trying.
(Mr MacKenzie) No, it should not be. We have draft tables ready which we are going to discuss with the interested parties in the first week of December.
(Mr MacKenzie) I agree with you.
(Mr Caborn) I do not think we have to wait for statistics, Mrs Dunwoody, what I am saying very clearly is as far as the government are concerned we are investing and continue to invest in sports facilities.
(Mr Caborn) No, no.
(Mr Caborn) In the normal objective way we always dispense money to Crewe.
(Mr Caborn) We genuinely need to do that.
(Mr Caborn) It not our responsibility to dispense it, as you know, it is through Sport England or NOF, they have the responsibility.
(Mr Caborn) The answer to that is yes. That is why you have the Public Accounts Committee in our institution here, to also that make sure that public money is dispensed in the way the government feel it should be.
(Mr Caborn) I think that is a very valid point. In terms of Sport England that is part of the sustainability criteria they put into the funding regimes. I think you are right in terms of the question of revenue spending and the maintenance and indeed the operation hours of medical sports facilities and I think that is something that Sport England are taking on board and something that I am very keen to make sure happens. That is why the new development of sports facilities and the refurbishment through the NOF fund via the local education authority and the LEA that does make it easier. It is very, very clear indeed that they have to be able to facilitate the community as well as it has for the educational establishment. That is therefore incumbent to find a solution to this the question of maintenance and opening hours. Opening hours is a very important issue, people who play amateur football use school facilities at the weekend and the big argument is, is the caretaker going to come in to open the building up, should the school bear that responsibility, what are the charges, which is another big issue that we have to look at.
(Mr Caborn) I do not think that would have any significance on either of those decisions.
(Mr Caborn) To the best of my knowledge the answer to that would be no. As indicated by my officials they both secured planning permission, I do not think it was a major problem.
(Mr Caborn) The amount of time it took to make decisions on Picketts Lock and Wembley they are probably both in sync and not very satisfactory, if I may say so.
(Mr Caborn) Thank you very much.