10. Tourism and leisure
10.1 Tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the economy of London. As the number of visitors increases, the number of people employed directly and indirectly in tourist‑related jobs will continue to grow. The pressure of visitors in central London has led to moves to decentralise tourism to outer London boroughs. This, combined with projected increases of visitors travelling from the Continent and the opening of the Channel Tunnel, means that Bexley Borough should plan for increasing tourism activity. Policies have therefore been formulated with the aim of accommodating that activity in the best possible way, at the most suitable locations, and with the minimum risk of adverse effects on residents or the environment.
The Council will encourage hotel development and new serviced accommodation, to serve tourist and business markets in locations that meet all of the following criteria:
- the use is compatible with the character of the area and will not give rise to unacceptable levels of noise and disturbance to residential amenities;
- the site has the benefit of good road access to principal and Strategic Roads and is accessible by public transport;
- the development will not result in any built development or inappropriate uses or levels of activity on land designated as Metropolitan Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land;
- adequate off‑street vehicle parking is provided in accordance with the Council's standards;
- the proposal is satisfactory in terms of design and layout and will enhance the environment; and
- There is no conflict with other policies in the Plan.
10.2 Adequate hotel accommodation is important to serve not only tourists but also business visitors. Hotels are seen as an important adjunct to the successful development of an area's businesses. They also provide additional benefits of helping the development of the local economy and providing a range of local employment. The attraction of hotel development can be greater if additional facilities are included, such as conference facilities. The criteria for the location of hotels aim to direct development to locations which are readily accessible, whilst at the same time ensuring that there are no undue adverse effects or conflicts with other uses or aims of the Plan.
10.3 There is a recognised need for additional guest house/ budget hotel accommodation in London. This may often be provided by the change of use of existing buildings or the extension of existing buildings such as public houses, and such uses can sometimes secure the preservation of historic buildings. Provided that the criteria above can be met, such uses would be considered favourably.
The Council will support proposals for short‑stay holiday caravan and camping sites provided that they are inconspicuously located, well‑screened and landscaped, supported by suitable ancillary facilities, and do not conflict with other policies in the plan.
10.4 There is a shortage of suitable budget accommodation for holiday‑makers in London and particularly there are few touring caravan and camping sites in southeast London. Caravans, tents and ancillary buildings can be visually intrusive, particularly as sites are normally in generally open areas. It is therefore important to ensure that any proposals are carefully designed and well screened.
Hotels and tourist attractions must be designed to be accessible to and provide facilities for people with disabilities.
10.5 The Council aims to increase the opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in as wide a range of activities as possible, and to ensure that they are not needlessly disadvantaged by ill‑considered developments. Hotels should provide specially adapted rooms, WCs, ramps, lifts, etc. wherever possible, and should avoid steps, which whilst seemingly innocuous to able‑bodied people, may act as impenetrable barriers to people with disabilities. Operators and their designers should have regard to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act and seek advice as necessary from the Disability Rights Commission. Many of these matters will be covered by the Building Regulations when new development or alterations take place. In new hotels and in certain other circumstances, there is a statutory requirement to provide at least 5% of bedrooms designed to wheelchair access standards in accordance with current Building Regulations. This should be regarded as a minimum requirement and the Council will by negotiation seek an enhanced level of facilities in appropriate circumstances up to, for example, 10% of all bedrooms and up to 50% of bedrooms on the ground floor. The Council will also ensure that consideration is given to the provision of adequate access for people with disabilities in site layouts, and the relationship between buildings and their car parking areas and other public access points.
The Council will seek to enhance existing attractions for visitors and encourage the provision of new facilities in suitable locations, including signing and information services.
10.6 In order to obtain the benefits from tourism development, and to accommodate the growth of tourism in outer London, it is necessary to plan the enhancement of attractions. Many existing attractions, such as open spaces and historic buildings, represent finite resources which it is difficult to expand, and these will be enhanced so as to make the best use of them. The provision of new attractions, information services and signing are important to make the area attractive and convenient for visitors, and to direct tourism activity to the best locations, where any risk of adverse impacts will be minimised.
10.7 Recreation and leisure represent important elements in achieving an acceptable quality of life. Trends towards earlier retirement, shorter working weeks and increased concern over healthy living have further increased the importance of leisure and sports. In such activities, some people may be prepared to travel considerable distances to reach suitable facilities, but most seek such provision locally, particularly for open spaces. Some deficiencies of local provision do exist, and the plan points to the need and means of providing suitable leisure opportunities for all residents. In this, it is recognised that besides the Council a range of bodies provide, and will continue to provide, facilities for recreation. The plan aims to provide policies to secure new provision and safeguard existing facilities for the benefit of local residents. The Council will, in partnership with local people, prepare a Bexley leisure strategy, which will include the identification and assessment of local, recreational needs within the borough, in accordance with Planning Policy Guidance Note 17.
10.8 Most forms of recreation and leisure have land requirements. Land is a limited resource for which leisure is just one of many competing uses. Some locations are better suited than others to recreation and leisure uses, and if such uses are lost, they are difficult to reinstate. The Council, therefore, wishes to retain such uses, particularly where they serve a local need. New provision will be encouraged where appropriate, through voluntary, commercial or private organisations, as well as by the Council where resources permit.
Publicly accessible parks and open spaces
The Council will aim to provide or secure provision of a range of parks and open spaces such that every resident would have access to the following:
- a local park;
- a local natural space; and
- a large, multi‑activity space.
10.9 Following Government advice contained in PPG17 "Sport and Recreation" the Council has undertaken a local user assessment of its parks and open spaces. Extensive research with people across the borough has shown that users value open spaces beyond their obvious recreational use for the feelings of getting away, well‑being, relaxation and revitalisation they generate, such that even small "pockets of green" provide visual and ecological enhancement. The user assessment has identified the overriding consideration of provision, namely the need for diversity within and between the different spaces provided. There is the need for small, local parks and natural areas close to people's homes to cater for the short, informal visits often undertaken on weekdays and the needs of people with reduced mobility. There is also the need for large, predominantly natural "green" spaces with a sufficient variety of features to provide a day out for its visitors. People will be prepared to travel by bus/car to visit such spaces if they are perceived to have sufficient attractions. The Council, therefore, aims to secure the provision of a range of parks and open spaces distributed so as to maximise accessibility for residents and provide the range of benefits they seek.
10.10 For the purpose of Policy TAL5 a local park is defined as:
An open space that is large and/or secluded enough to give a sense of getting away and which enhances the appearance of the area. It offers a combination of grassy spaces interspersed with trees and flowerbeds. It provides play and kick-about facilities for children, seating for parents and less mobile users and probably a playing field for organised sport/games. It also contains a separate area for dog-owners to walk their pets. Wherever possible, it incorporates sites/features of interest regarding local history and culture.
10.11 Such a space would serve the local park needs of residents and visitors within a short walking distance [nominally 400 metres from its entrance(s)].
10.12 A local natural space is defined as:
An open space that is predominantly a natural landscape, such as woodland, heath, marsh or meadow. It is sufficiently large and/or secluded enough to give a sense of being close to nature and enhance the visual appearance of the area. It may contain a water feature and incorporate sites/features of ecological, local historical and cultural interest. It would offer seating, wild animals and flowers, hills and slopes, signed footpaths and dog‑walking routes, but would otherwise have limited formal facilities.
10.13 Such a space would serve the local natural space needs of residents and visitors within 1km of the entrance(s).
10.14 A large, multi‑activity space is defined as:
A large open space with a combination of natural and formal spaces. The natural areas would offer grassy, open space, hills and slopes, woodland, wild animals and flowers, and a water feature. Such areas would be sufficiently large to provide a sense of being close‑to‑nature and getting away from the stresses of urban life. The natural areas would be supported by a sufficient number and variety of facilities and formal spaces for all visitors to enjoy a "day out". These might include 'pay as you play' sports facilities, playing fields, kick-about areas, equipped children's play spaces, picnic areas, separate areas for people to walk their pets, formal gardens, sites of historic/cultural interest, and signed footpaths/nature walks/jogging tracks. Given that people will travel to these spaces and often consider such visits as a "day out", the necessary level of support services including car parking, toilets, seating and refreshments would be required. Such spaces are also likely to offer information and interpretation centres, a permanent staff presence, and a programme of activities and events.
10.15 Such a space would serve the large natural and formal open space needs of residents and visitors within 4 kilometres of the entrance(s). Given that large, multi‑activity spaces should meet the minimum requirements of each of the other types in the classification, they would also function as local parks and local natural spaces.
10.16 The terms "public open space" and "open space" include woodland areas as well as open grassland. Appendix H categorises existing parks and green spaces in the borough according to the above classification.
In areas of open space or recreational deficiency the Council will have regard to the need for additional open space provision, by means of:
- appropriation, for public open space purposes, of Council owned land in another use, when it is no longer required for that use; and
- seeking the provision of, or access to, open space in all new residential developments to meet the recreational and open space needs of residents and users of such developments in accordance with Policies H13 and TAL7.
10.17 The Councils local user survey indicates that some parts of the borough are deficient in their accessibility to one or more types of open space as set out in Policy TAL5 above. Subject to the availability of resources, a review of areas deficient in open space will be carried out in accordance with advice set out in Planning Policy Guidance 17 (Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation). In built up areas such as Bexley, development or redevelopment schemes provide opportunities for creating new local parks and open spaces in parts of the borough that are deficient. When considering the future use of its own surplus operational land, the Council will take into account whether it could be used to alleviate an open space deficiency, in accordance with the advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 17. It may also be appropriate for the Council to negotiate planning obligations under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, or other power, to secure the provision of or access to open space or contributions to off-site open space provision in new residential developments, as provided for by Policy TAL7 and particularly related to larger residential developments as set out in Policy H13. This, too, is consistent with the advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 17. For the purposes of this policy, open space is defined by paragraphs 10.10-10.16
For all new residential developments, developers will be required to ensure there would be sufficient recreational open space within easy walking distance to meet the needs of occupants, including:
- informal open space; and
- children's playspace to nationally accepted standards of design.
To achieve this a contribution may be sought from the developer towards new or enhanced off-site provision where on-site provision is neither practical nor desirable in design and planning terms.
10.18 Planning Policy Guidance Note 17 (Sport and Recreation) recognises that provision for sport and recreation can form an important component of new housing developments in highly built-up areas like Bexley. Large-scale redevelopment schemes may provide opportunities for creating new public open spaces. Children represent a significant proportion of the borough's population ‑ about 18.6% of the 1991 population were aged under 15 years and this had risen to 20% by 2001. Play is recognised as a vital need in the development and maturation of children, yet the modern environment is both dangerous and unattractive for children at play. Surveys have indicated that more than two‑thirds of parents in the U.K. are concerned about the lack of play space for their children. Providing good quality outdoor play facilities would make a significant contribution to reducing the risks to children. Where a contribution is sought from a developer this will be on the basis set out in the Councils Design and Development Control Guidelines 10.
10.19 The development in the borough of any new housing will increase the demands made on existing parks and open spaces and exacerbate deficiencies where they exist. Whilst private garden space can meet the most basic needs for play and passive recreation, it is no substitute for well‑equipped or designed public open space. This also needs to be continually adapted and improved to meet modern standards and expectations of users.
10.20 Most existing public play spaces in the borough are located in parks and open spaces Bexley is relatively well provided with these and there are few areas of the borough that are seriously deficient in terms of accessibility to an open space. The quality of provision however needs to be improved, particularly for children's play-spaces. The Council is seeking to expand and improve its own provision as resources permit to meet new national standards.
10.21 Experience has shown that play-space, both equipped and informal, is nearly always best located in local parks and open spaces. These are usually close to homes, but not so close that they would cause disturbance. Similarly, the need for informal recreation by other age groups is nearly always best met in larger parks and open spaces. In both cases there are economies of scale in respect of maintenance costs by locating them in existing parks and open spaces. It is therefore the Council's policy to upgrade and enhance existing recreational facilities to meet new demands, rather than to provide freestanding new play areas or pocket parks, wherever this will meet the needs of the occupants of new developments.
10.22 To this end, the Council may seek a financial contribution from the developer towards the costs of recreational provision for the development in lieu of on site provision (see para.10.23 below). Financial contributions will be held in a "public recreation open space fund" until such time as sufficient funding is accrued to provide new or improved off site facilities. Funding will be allocated to projects identified in a recreational space improvement strategy prepared by the Council and dispersed to ensure equity and create a functional relationship between the contribution and the off-site facilities.
10.23 The Council has published advice for developers on its requirements, together with information on commuted payments, as Design and Development Control Guidelines. (See Design and Development Control Guideline No. 10 - Play space provision for new developments.)
Access to recreation opportunities
The Council will seek to improve public access to open spaces, the countryside and riverside areas, including improved access for people with disabilities.
10.24 The provision of a well distributed range of open spaces and opportunities for recreation can only be successful if residents can gain ready access to these facilities. The countryside offers great potential but this can only be realised if access is arranged e.g. by opening up new areas (such as the Cray and Shuttle Riverways and the Green Chain walk) and providing further access points to open spaces. Efforts will therefore be made to secure the best access whilst recognising the need to limit access to particular ecologically sensitive areas. The Council will seek the co‑operation of developers of sites adjoining such recreation opportunities to provide improved public access. It is recognised that open spaces are attractive to recreational cyclists and cycle access may be improved on particular routes, provided that it does not conflict with the safety of pedestrians in parks. (See also the chapters on Thames‑side and Environment).
The Council will safeguard and endeavour to enhance public footpaths and rights of way, to make them safer and more attractive to use and to improve access to recreational facilities.
There will be a presumption against the closure or diversion of public footpaths unless equivalent or improved alternative provision is to be made.
10.25 The public footpath network provides opportunities for access to areas for recreation, particularly in the countryside for informal recreation. Improvements should therefore help to increase accessibility and open up new opportunities for residents. The existing footpath network is, therefore, viewed as a recreational resource as well as a means of communication, and for both reasons the Council will resist the closure of footpaths. Where improvements to the routeing, lighting or condition of footpaths appear to offer scope for the reduction of crime or the enhancement of public safety, these will be considered. The Council maintains a definitive map of Public Rights of Way and Public Footpaths and this will form the basis of ongoing monitoring and control.
In considering applications for golf courses, golf driving ranges, pitch‑and‑putt courses and putting greens, the Council requires that any proposal:
- does not result in the loss of productive agricultural land, in particular that of grade 1, 2 or 3a;
- protects areas important for their landscape value (particularly for historic landscapes) or nature conservation value and improves areas of despoiled or poor quality landscape;
- is satisfactory in terms of access and traffic impact on the surrounding area;
- is of a scale, siting and design such that the character and open nature of the area is not impaired; and
- is accompanied by full details of the site and of the impact of the development proposed, including any effects on public rights of way.
10.26 Golf courses are mostly open landscaped areas, which, therefore, may be accommodated in Metropolitan Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land, provided that associated buildings are kept to a minimum and are compatible with the location and other related policies. With their managed and semi‑natural landscapes, golf courses can be designed to provide visual and ecological benefits to an area. The Council will pay particular regard to the protection of existing wildlife habitats in accordance with policies for nature conservation elsewhere in the Plan. In areas of historic landscape, special regard will be paid to the effect of the golf course on the character of the area, particularly in the context of specialist advice from English Heritage. Full details of any proposal will be required in order that the implications of the development on the site and surrounding area may be thoroughly assessed.
The Council will aim to maximise the potential of waterside and riverside areas, particularly of the Thames, for water‑based activities and riverside walks, provided that safety and navigation on the waterways is not prejudicial and the special character of the waterside areas or sensitive areas of wildlife are not adversely affected.
10.27 Riverside areas provide significant potential for leisure, with activities linked to the water (sailing, rowing, fishing, etc.) and passive recreation (walking, picnics, etc.). For this reason the Council is establishing new riverside walks to open up these attractive areas and to provide more opportunities for recreation, e.g. the Cray Riverway and Shuttle Riverway which link areas of open space along these rivers. Where new developments take place alongside rivers, the Council will seek the improvement of riverside access to the public. Many riverside areas are of ecological importance, and care will be taken to balance the needs of wildlife and visitors. In such areas only passive recreational uses compatible with nature conservation objectives will be supported. Water based activities on the Thames must be compatible with the safety of navigation and the Port of London Authority should be consulted on any proposals for such activities.
The Council will support water‑based leisure as an after‑use of areas of mineral extraction, where appropriate, both as natural habitats for conservation and for passive leisure, and lakes for active water sports.
10.28 Bexley Borough is deficient in water areas suitable for water‑based leisure activities. Opportunities to create such facilities arise only rarely, mostly following mineral extraction. Such after‑use will be the preferred form of restoration after mineral extraction in low lying areas, notably the Cray Valley. Besides leisure, water areas often evolve into valuable wildlife habitats; this will therefore be a consideration in determining the best form of treatment after mineral extraction. (Refer also to Chapter 14).
The Council will promote the provision of three integrated leisure centres at Erith Sports Centre, Crook Log Sports Centre and at an appropriate location in the south of the borough.
10.29 Following the success of Crook Log Sports Centre, a smaller complex has been built at Erith to provide a range of general leisure and sports provision as well as conference and meeting facilities. The Council has identified the benefits of combining sports and swimming centres into integrated leisure facilities. Therefore integrated leisure facilities are now proposed at the Crook Log and Erith Sports Centre sites. The Council has kept under review and identified the potential need for similar facilities to be provided for the south of the borough. In view of the size and likely visual impact of indoor sports buildings, and their likely traffic generation, great care will have to be taken in the selection of sites for new facilities to ensure they are compatible with their surroundings.
The Council will encourage and promote public use of existing or new school, collegiate and private facilities for sports, recreation and entertainment subject to:
- no significant detrimental impact on the environment or amenities of neighbouring occupiers;
- floodlighting and noisy or late night activity having no detrimental impact on the surrounding area; and
- no conflict with other policies in this Plan.
10.30 Dual use is a means of maximising the use of school and college buildings and equipment and privately owned facilities to the benefit of the regular users and the wider community. Premises could be made available to other users for organised or casual use at off‑peak times. This helps to achieve maximum use of the available facilities. Care should be taken to ensure that activities do not conflict with the amenity of nearby residential areas, and sites should have adequate parking provision.
Subject to other policies in this Plan the Council will encourage commercial and voluntary provision of suitable sports and leisure facilities, including arts, culture and entertainment, for public use in appropriate locations and will oppose the loss of existing facilities, unless appropriate alternative provision can be made.
10.31 The Council recognises the important contribution that private clubs and commercial undertakings can make to the range of sports and leisure facilities, particularly in respect of indoor sports. They represent important leisure resources for the public, and will therefore be encouraged and, where in operation, protected for the benefit of users.
The Council will encourage the provision and retention of a range of commercial and voluntary leisure and entertainment uses at points of good public accessibility, notably in and adjacent to town centres.
10.32 In the fields of leisure and entertainment, it is recognised that the major provision is made by commercial organisations or by voluntary groups. These range from organised facilities such as cinemas and theatres to the more informal facilities such as social clubs and public houses. Some may become focal points for the local community, and the loss of such leisure opportunities will be resisted. The most suitable locations for leisure and entertainment facilities are in and around town centres, or at other locations with good public transport access, where they are more readily accessible to local residents. Such uses also serve to reinforce the function of town centres and provide vitality outside normal shopping hours. However, care will be taken in locating such uses in shopping areas so as not to detract from the function or attractiveness of these areas or from the amenity of residential areas. In all cases, adequate parking provision is important so as to avoid creating on‑street parking problems.
The Council will seek to promote the provision of suitable venues for the performance of theatre, music, the visual arts, the showing of films or similar purposes.
Proposals for indoor recreational uses should preferably be located in town centres. Where suitable sites are not available they should be located on edge-of-centre sites with good links to public transport services. Out-of-centre sites will only be acceptable if suitable town centre or edge-of-centre sites are not available and the applicant is able to demonstrate a need for the facility. In all cases acceptability is subject to:
- the site being well-served by public transport from a range of destinations;
- no conflict with other policies or priorities for land identified in the Plan;
- adequate on site parking and servicing and no unacceptable impact on parking congestion and traffic flow; and
- no unacceptable adverse effects on the environment or on residential amenities.
Subject to the conditions set out in Policy TAL19, the Council will encourage further provision for indoor tennis, indoor bowls and children's indoor play facilities.
10.33 There are a number of venues for events, ranging from library halls to the Council Chamber at the Civic Offices, two small public and two small private theatres. An octagonal performance space has been built at Rose Bruford College, Sidcup. Some school halls and church halls are occasionally available. However, few of these are suitable for public performances and none is suitable for touring professional theatre or concert performances. Developers will be expected to consider the consequences that entertainment facilities would have on the neighbourhood both in terms of noise generation or light pollution, and in terms of traffic generation (both vehicular and pedestrian). Facilities likely to be busy outside normal working hours may have a particular potential to cause nuisance in a primarily residential area.
All new or improved recreation or leisure facilities should provide vehicle parking spaces as relevant in accordance with the Council's current parking standards. They should also make provision for use by people with disabilities. Buildings will be expected to be designed and landscaped to be compatible with their surroundings.
10.34 Recreation and leisure uses tend to generate considerable vehicular traffic, and adequate on‑site parking is essential so as to avoid creating parking problems in nearby roads. Buildings and site layout/design should take account of their surroundings so as to ensure that no undue adverse effects will result for local residents or the environment. Design should also take account of the need for people with disabilities to be allowed to participate in as wide a range of activities as possible.
The provision of public works of art will be encouraged to enhance new developments and existing spaces and the provision of an appropriate "percentage for art" element will be expected in all relevant development proposals and briefs.
10.35 Public art such as sculpture, statues and fountains adds to the character of developments as well as enhancing the public environment. Both major and minor developments can benefit significantly from the provision of suitable works of art, sculptured features, etc., which will normally represent only a very small part of any development budget. The percentage for art can take many forms but should generally be related to the particular development and its surroundings, and therefore be of benefit to that development as well as to the public environment.