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Playing Fields

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

7. What steps his Department is taking to maintain numbers of playing fields; and if he will make a statement. (172203)

We have tough measures in place to protect community playing fields. Planning guidance to local authorities is clear: no playing field needed by the community should be removed. In addition, Sport England objects to all applications that would result in a loss of playing fields, unless there is a clear benefit to sport. Those protections are working well. The latest published data from Sport England show that 96 per cent. of all applications affecting playing fields represented a net gain or no loss to sport.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Harrow—St. George’s field—Waltham college and Barnet are just three examples in London of playing fields that may be at risk because of the five-year consultation period. During that time, Sport England has to be a consultee, but if a developer sits on the land for five years after that, Sport England is not required to be consulted. What discussions has he had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on that matter? When does he expect that loophole to be plugged?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised his concerns a number of times with various Departments. The guidance—in planning policy guidance note 17—is clear, and it is important for us to conform with it; but if any loopholes exist, we must be sure to close them. I shall consider the issue, and I should be happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman in more detail later.

Not only is it sacrilege to sell off playing fields, but it is sacrilege for those that are held by schools not to be used at weekends or during summer holidays. Can the Minister ensure that schools, universities and other organisations, including local authorities, work harder together to ensure that football clubs and other sporting clubs, particularly those with youth sections, have access to the fields? Clitheroe Wolves, of which I am president, finds it very difficult to obtain access to playing fields on Saturdays, and it does a tremendous amount of work for the local community.

I do not blame the hon. Gentleman personally, but we will take no lessons from the Opposition about the sale of playing fields. It was the selling off of school playing fields when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power that created the problem in the first place. What we are doing is ensuring that participation increases along with investment in school sport, and that schools work with sports clubs. We are doing everything we can, including investing £4 billion over the last 10 years.

I hear what my hon. Friend says about the excellent policy of no sales, but surely we should also consider ways in which we can make more effective use of our playing fields. Will my hon. Friend have a word with Sport England about that? Where innovative schemes exist between the private sector and schools, for example, those are just the sort of initiatives that should be supported by appropriate funding.

I wholeheartedly agree that it is important for us to get all sectors working together to provide the best-quality playing fields and sporting venues for our sports people, at whatever level. I also agree that the relationship between the public and private sectors is vitally important.