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Land Sales (Schools)

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

4. What estimate he has made of the amount of land sold by schools for non-educational purposes in the latest period for which figures are available. (292195)

The information requested is not held centrally. Schools and local authorities do not need the Secretary of State’s consent to sell school buildings or land that is not school playing field. However, all proceeds from the disposal of school playing fields have been reinvested in school sports or educational facilities since legislation was introduced, under section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act, in 1998.

I wrote to the Minister about two excellent schools in my constituency which share a site in Evington, in Leicester: St. Paul’s Catholic school and Leicester grammar school. Leicester grammar school wants to vacate its land and sell it to St. Paul’s school, which wants to buy it but has not sufficient resources. As the Minister must pass Leicester to reach his constituency in Gedling, may I ask him to drop by one Friday and try to resolve the matter? I think that with good will and the support of the Government, both schools can get what they want.

I would be keen and very happy to drop into my right hon. Friend’s constituency in Leicester to see for myself the problem he has outlined. I know that he has been trying for some months to resolve this particular issue. He will know that Leicester grammar school is an independent school, and the Secretary of State and I have no authority to talk to it in respect of the disposal of the land to which he refers, but the local authority does of course have a duty to ensure that St. Paul’s school has sufficient land available to it for school playing fields, and it is on that basis that I hope we can find a way forward.

Of the many thousands of playing fields being sold off by the Labour Government or Labour local authorities in direct contravention of repeated manifesto commitments, some 342 have been sold because apparently they were the wrong shape. Would the Minister care to tell the House what playing fields that were the correct shape before are now of such a strange shape as to have to be sold off forcibly?

I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman means. Before 1998 there were no controls over the sale of school playing fields. It was the introduction of legislation that required any local authority that wished to sell school playing fields to receive consent from the Secretary of State. Actually, the correct figure is that there have been 203 approved playing field sales since 1997, and I say to the hon. Gentleman that significant numbers of the school playing fields that have been sold have resulted in schools being able to reinvest in their school playing facilities, as I saw for myself at the Lincoln Christ’s Hospital school where a bit of waste ground designated as a school playing field was able to be sold and the sum reinvested into changing rooms, better facilities and improved playing fields for that school. That will have been the case up and down the country, and instead of taking a dogmatic view the hon. Gentleman ought to have a look and see what is actually happening.