Skip to main content

Urban Parks

Volume 403: debated on Thursday 10 April 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


What action the Government are taking to increase funding to refurbish (a) sports and (b) general facilities in urban parks in London. [107472]

A number of funding streams are available to improve sports facilities, including those located in parks. They include the lottery sports fund and the community capital development programme. It is not possible to give accurate figures covering funding just for facilities in parks. However, to give hon. Members some idea of the scale of funding, more than £180 million from the fund has been spent to date on improving sports facilities across London. The community capital development programme will provide £60 million between 2003 and 2006 for the provision of sports facilities in deprived areas.

On the issue of parks in general, the Government have committed £201 million over three years to improve the quality of parks and public spaces throughout England. That will include a new "liveability" fund of £89 million to help local authorities to improve their public spaces.

In addition, and in recognition of the importance of urban parks and public spaces, the Government have asked the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment to set up CABE Space to champion the vital role of parks and public spaces in improving quality of life and delivering sustainable communities. CABE Space will be launched next month and a new director of CABE Space has just been appointed.

The Government also provide funding to the Urban Parks Forum, which has been instrumental in setting up the London Parks and Green Space Forum.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. Is he aware of reports from CABE that almost 50 per cent. of local authorities in London and elsewhere have no strategy for their green urban spaces? Is he aware, too, of the suggestion that almost a third of people are deterred from using parks because of the fear of crime? Although the sums of money that the Minister announced today are excellent news, is he confident that he has enough money to provide the necessary incentives to all local authorities in London and elsewhere to get sports and other facilities in parks up to scratch?

I referred earlier to PPG17. For the first time we have been able to bring sports facilities, open spaces and recreational space together in the planning guidance. Local authorities are now under instructions through PPG17 to carry out a needs assessment across the range of those facilities and open spaces and to bring it into their planning regimes. I hope that if they do not do so and alterations are wanted, the matter will come to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and there will thus be a prerequisite for them to carry out that assessment.

My hon. Friend spoke about having a strategy. The strategy will have to be in the needs assessment. We hope for a quantum change in the way we look at open spaces and sports facilities. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), is deeply involved in the matter, too.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. McNulty)

Building on the "Living Places" document, the communities plan launched on 5 February included a commitment to spend £250 million in the next three years in precisely those areas. We will shortly be launching CABE Space, to which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport referred, a strategic community enablers scheme, a revamp of the green flag awards and a "liveability" fund, all of which focus on an acceptance that parks, green spaces and the public realm in general are as crucial to urban townscapes as they are to areas on the periphery. For the reasons suggested earlier, the work of the police and others is important in the maintenance of those spaces.

I am well aware of the Government's commitment to these issues. Can the Minister for Sport help me in relation to matters that arise frequently in the borough of Southwark, where there is a significant deficit of football and cricket pitches? The Heritage Lottery Fund has made some good investments. Southwark park has been re-opened and is very well used. I hope that between the beginning of May and the summer the Minister will accompany me to talk to leading people in the local authority and some of the users of the facilities to discuss how to lever in the maximum public and other funds to provide cricket, football and other facilities, as demand for them definitely exists. However, at present, no funding is available to turn the spaces in the big parks in Southwark to such uses. I am willing to give the Minister relevant material beforehand. It is exactly the sort of profitable use of underused spaces for young people that would help to deal with social disorder on the estates and to improve sporting interests and abilities in our communities, which are waiting for the space.

I will answer about the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I should first explain that there are two bodies into which we are putting significant funding. The first is the New Opportunities Fund. About £500 million is going through local education authorities in the next three years. That is starting to come on stream, and there will be just over 2,000 developments. That money is going into sports facilities, both new and upgraded. Even though the money is going through the LEAs, the prerequisite is that the money is used for the community. I have seen some innovatory schemes among those 2,000. do not know what is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but we can find that out.

The second body is the Football Foundation, through which £60 million is being spent specifically on grass-roots football. I have asked the Football Foundation to develop partnerships and to start using synthetic pitches more effectively. Although one is always happy to see the upgrading of traditional football pitches, in inner cities the pitches used most effectively are synthetic. They can be played on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and many are floodlit.

We must also explore the work being done by the private sector, for example, by JJB Sports. In Trafford park, there are 24 indoor five-a-side football pitches. Every day from about 4 to 10 o'clock at night, including Saturdays and Sundays, those pitches are booked one year in advance by football teams. Dave Whelan, the managing director of JJB Sports, allows those pitches to be used by schools for nothing between 9 and 4 o'clock during the day. That is a real marriage between the public and private sector. There are complexes in Wigan and Trafford, and the company is rolling out others.

We can explore public-private partnerships and should examine indoor facilities more effectively than we have in the past. Using synthetic surfaces is important for sustainability and usability. I apologise Mr. Deputy Speaker—I am almost making a speech rather than answering a question.

Although I welcome the Minister for Sport's answers, do he and his colleague in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that pitches in our parks play a crucial role in providing sports facilities for many local schools and grass-roots sports clubs—particularly for soccer and cricket, but also for rugby and hockey—where the schools and clubs have no pitches or land of their own?

Will the Minister for Sport, who is responsible for the lottery, examine how the NOF money is being spent by the LEAs to ensure that it is not focused only on schools that have the land and therefore the ability to improve and create new pitches? It should also be available to LEAs and local authorities to improve their facilities that are used by schools that do not have land of their own. I am thinking particularly of the kids who play on the pitches at Wandsworth, whom I see occasionally when I walk my dog.

Will the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister say whether the Government have looked at local authorities' ability to maintain the pitches that already exist, given the severe pressure on local authority budgets in the current spending round?

With sports facilities, whether they are football or cricket pitches or tennis courts, one problem is that there has never been an audit of our facilities. We have spoken about PPG17 and conducting a needs assessment of facilities in certain areas. We are in the process of putting together a domesday book of all sports facilities, both public and private, and I hope that we will complete the first part of that project by the middle of this year. We hope to add to it month by month, and once we have the full survey, we can make a realistic assessment of what we need to invest in, whether that is for schools or the community. I am sure that organisations such as Football Foundation will join us in that project, as will the private sector. We will have a comprehensive picture of the sports facilities throughout the country in about a year from now, and we can then work out in a realistic and informed way where new investment should go. It is amazing that that has not been done before.

I realise that pitches and playing areas outside schools are important, not least in some of our most deprived communities. I also understand that there are constant calls on local government funding, even though we have increased by well over £1 billion the local environmental, protective and cultural services block, the old standard spending assessment and the formula spending share.

The point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is important. PPG17 is part of the process, but I should also pay tribute to organisations such as Groundwork, which is a serious player in recapturing many parks and open spaces that have gone into disrepair. Schools are then able to use them for the reasons that he suggested.