UK: Revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note 17: Planning for Open Space Sport and Recreation

Last Updated: 2 September 2002

Article by Mr Ian Ginbey


The Government has recently issued a revision to PPG 17 (Planning for Open Space Sport and Recreation). It replaces the previous version of PPG 17 issued in 1991. The Government has taken the opportunity to update the Guidance which now picks up many key themes, such as sustainable development and urban renaissance, which permeate national planning policy. It also places an emphasis on quality rather than quantity of open space.


The Guidance is designed to facilitate delivery of the following Government objectives:

  • supporting an urban renaissance through local networks of high quality and well managed/ maintained open spaces, sports and recreational facilities (all of which we refer to as "facilities");
  • supporting a rural renewal by the provision of recreational opportunities in rural areas;
  • promotion of social inclusion and community cohesion through the provision of well planned and maintained facilities;
  • health and well-being promoted through the provision of facilities; and
  • promoting more sustainable development by showing that facilities are easily accessible by walking, cycling and public transport.

Key Proposals

Local planning authorities are now required to undertake robust assessments both of existing and future needs for facilities within their boundaries. The assessments should consider both quantitative and qualitative aspects so as to identify whether a deficit or surplus of facilities exists. The Guidance makes it clear that these assessments are designed to act as a starting point for establishing a formal strategy to emerge through the development plan process. The plan should include local standards which, having regard to the results of the assessment, identify:

  • how much new provision may be needed;
  • a qualitative yard stick against which to measure the need for improving existing facilities; and
  • accessibility criteria (including distance thresholds and a consideration of the costs of using a facility).

Maintaining an Adequate Supply of Facilities

Existing open spaces, sports and recreational buildings and land should not be developed unless an assessment clearly shows that such open space etc is surplus to requirements. In determining this test, local planning authorities will be expected to have regard to a robust and up-to-date assessment. If no such assessment has been carried out, then developers may seek to support their application through preparation of an independent assessment. If this course is pursued, then developers are advised to ensure that the local community is consulted and will need to demonstrate that their proposals are widely supported.

Sports and recreational facilities that are of high quality e.g. if they provide a community resource, should be protected by suitable policies in the local plan.

Where open space etc is to be developed, and replacement facilities are proposed, developers are advised that the new land or facility (as the case may be) should be at least as accessible to current and potential new users and at least equivalent in terms of size, usefulness, attractiveness and quality.

The Guidance makes it clear that parks, recreation grounds, playing fields and allotments must not be regarded "as previously developed land" for the purposes of PPG 3. Even where land can properly be said to fall within that definition, both its existing and potential value for recreation and other purposes should be properly assessed before a determination is made in relation to any prospective development.

In respect of playing fields, if an assessment under PPG 17 has not been carried out, then planning permission for their development should not be granted unless:

  • the development proposed is ancillary to the use of the site as a playing field and does not adversely affect the quantity or quality of pitches;
  • the development proposed only affects land which is incapable of forming a playing pitch;
  • the playing field that would be lost would be replaced by a playing field of equivalent or better quantity and quality and in a suitable location; and
  • the development proposed is for an outdoor/ indoor sports facility of sufficient benefit to the development of sport to outweigh the loss of the playing field.

As regards open spaces, local authorities are advised to:

  • avoid any erosion of recreational function;
  • ensure that open spaces do not suffer from increased overlooking traffic flows or other encroachment;
  • protect and enhance those parts of the rights of way network which might benefit open space; and
  • consider the impact of any development on nature conservation.

Local planning authorities are encouraged to seek opportunities to improve the value of their existing facilities through, for example, the mechanism of a planning obligation under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Planning for New Facilities

The Guidance sets out a number of general principles which authorities should have regard to when identifying a suitable location for new facilities. It is quite clear that accessibility and the contribution which the site could make to the local community (in terms of, for example, regeneration, amenity and social cohesion) will be key factors in successfully delivering any potential site.

For the purposes of the Guidance, "open space" is given a wider definition than set out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It is deemed to mean all open space of public value, including not just land, but also areas of water, such as rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs which offer important opportunities for sports and recreation and can also act as a visual amenity. It will extend, therefore, to wetlands, wastelands and domestic gardens.

Although sport and recreation is not formally defined in the Guidance, mostly the policies are intentionally generic and should be applied to all forms of sport and recreational activities.

This briefing note is intended to raise your awareness of certain issues (as at August 2002) under the laws of England and Wales, and is not intended to be comprehensive or a substitute for proper advice which should always be taken for particular queries.

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