2 THE STATE OF OUR PUBLIC SPACES
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
"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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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
- 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
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
First Annual Report of the Local Environment Quality Survey of
England. Encams September 2002 Back
Public Park Assessment: A survey of local authority owned parks,
focusing on parks of historic interest Urban Parks Forum May 2001 Back
'The Rising Prominence of Liveability or are condemned to a life
of grime?' Mori. September 2002 Back
LIV22 Groundwork Back