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Playing Fields

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2009

6. What guidance her Department has issued to planning authorities on protection from development of playing fields that have been out of use for five years. (259889)

Our planning policy guidance note 17, “Planning for open space, sport and recreation”, makes it clear that playing fields should not be built on other than in a very limited set of circumstances. In addition, Sport England is a statutory consultee on all planning applications affecting open land that has been used as a playing field in the past five years.

The Minister is right, of course, to say that the protections in place now mean that fewer playing fields are built on. Under the so-called five-year rule, however, it is possible for playing fields that have not been used in that period to be developed. It is not beyond the wit of some unscrupulous people to fence off areas of playing fields and then develop them five years later. Will he give some reassurance that he is looking at that problem? I am willing to work with him to make sure that there is a way to protect the small but important number of playing fields that are lost as a consequence of the so-called five-year rule.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that offer, and I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work that he does in Loughborough and elsewhere on sporting matters. The figures that we have show that in the latest year for which data are available, something like 97 per cent. of all planning applications involving playing fields have resulted in improved or protected playing fields and sporting provision. However, I am aware that there may be loopholes in the system, and I have worked and had meetings with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on the matter. In addition, we are hoping to review PPG17 in the summer and, given my hon. Friend’s expertise in the matter, I would be keen to work closely with him to ensure that we close any potential loopholes.

Following that helpful reply, when the Minister reviews the planning guidance, will he consider the proposal that if there is any land in urban areas that has been used for playing fields, allotments or other open space—even more than five years previously—and if anybody can give it a future that is viable and sustainable, whether for sport or other activities, that should be sufficient to guarantee that it stays as open land and is not built on?

The current planning provision in PPG17 already says that building cannot take place on playing fields if a strong case can be made that alternative sites are available. That remains a strong provision in the planning framework, but as I said, we will look at it again in the summer. I would be keen to listen to representations from the hon. Gentleman on this subject. Protecting and preserving sporting facilities and open space is a key part of what we need to do to make sure that they are available for the community to enjoy.