Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Eleventh Report


  5.  It is now widely accepted that our public spaces are in a poor condition. In June 2000, the Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his 'liveability' agenda at a conference in Croydon:

    "The one public service we all use all the time is the streets where we live. And in too many places, streets and public spaces have become dirty, ugly and dangerous…. We need to make it safer for children to walk or cycle to school in safety. We need local parks which are well looked after and easily reached with a pushchair. We need streets to be free of litter, dog mess and mindless vandalism."

  6.  The ODPM's document Living Places: Cleaner, Safer, Greener stated;

    "..all too often we experience places that are unwelcoming, unkempt and difficult - or even dangerous to use……"[3]

  7.  The overall condition of these spaces is however not known as there is no comprehensive assessment of the condition of public spaces. There is a range of indices which highlight the condition of parks, public spaces and streets. ENCAMS published the results of its first annual Local Environment Quality Survey of England last year which was a study of the environmental condition of 11,000 sites in 54 local authority areas.[4] On most indicators ENCAMS found that standards ranged between unsatisfactory and poor. The condition of pavements was considered poor, while the state of street furniture and the condition and cleaning of litter bins was considered unsatisfactory. ENCAMS' survey on local environmental quality produced useful data and should be regularly updated to assess progress.

  8.  The report singles out the condition of low density housing areas, industrial areas and secondary retail and commercial areas as having the poorest environments. This highlights the need for initiatives in a range of locations and not just high profile historic parks and city squares. The first national database of parks owned by local authorities carried out by the Urban Parks Forum for the Government in 2001 showed that overall only 18% of parks were felt to be in good condition and that 82% of the UK's population did not have access to good parks and open spaces.[5]

  9.  The public now consider action to improve the state of public space a high priority. A Mori study in 2001 revealed that road and pavement repairs and clean streets were a very high priority for the public.

    "In some of their local surveys, local people recognise that their towns or cities have improved but the problem is that they do not see where they live as safe enough, green enough or clean enough……..People are not happy-in relative terms- about the quality of life."[6]

  10.  Submissions to the Committee underlined the important role which high quality public space can play in improving the health and well-being of the nation. The environmental charity Groundwork commented:

    "In addition to the evident recreational amenity, green spaces in urban areas contribute to public health, to the development of local social capital, to clean area, to local biodiversity and informal education……Improving green and public spaces can have real benefits for health by promoting leisure and local food production. They are places to meet people, play sport and share experience…"[7]

  11.  Submissions to the Committee said that the poor condition of public spaces was due to:

  • poor management due to the fragmented ownership of the spaces with no one agency in charge which had the remit and sufficient powers to manage them;
  • a lack of public pride;
  • lack of funding;
  • poor design which gave priority to the needs of cars rather than pedestrians.

  12.  Since the Prime Minister's speech in Croydon in 2000, the Government has begun to take action to improve the condition of public spaces.

  • It set up the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce in 2001 to help develop a strategy for improving the state of green spaces;
  • a cross cutting review was established as part of the 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review to consider funding for public spaces.

These initiatives were followed up;

  • the ODPM published Living Places: Cleaner, Safer, Greener in October 2002 which set out plans for new funding programmes and Government arrangements and;
  • Defra published Living Places: Power, Rights, Responsibilities also in October 2002 which set out options for revising council powers to manage public spaces.

The two documents seek to improve the management and maintenance of public spaces by:

  • giving local authorities new powers and setting up new cross government arrangements;
  • introducing new planning arrangements to improve the design quality;
  • allocating additional public funds in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

  13.  Public spaces play an important role in encouraging healthy lifestyles and supporting communities by encouraging informal contact. However, many are in a poor condition. The spaces are perceived as unsafe and have a poor image which deters investment in the area. It is therefore vital that they are included as part of any regeneration initiative.

  14.  The Committee shares the Government's concern about the state of public spaces and welcomes the prominence being given to improve them. In the rest of the report, we consider whether its proposals are sufficient to tackle the state of public spaces and suggest how they might be improved.

3   'Living Places: Cleaner, Safer, Greener' ODPM 2003 page 6 Back

4   First Annual Report of the Local Environment Quality Survey of England. Encams September 2002 Back

5   Public Park Assessment: A survey of local authority owned parks, focusing on parks of historic interest Urban Parks Forum May 2001 Back

6   'The Rising Prominence of Liveability or are condemned to a life of grime?' Mori. September 2002 Back

7   LIV22 Groundwork Back

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