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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 01:18 GMT
Pressure builds on playing fields
Varndean College, Brighton
Colleges such as Varndean say they need to sell land
Playing fields in England are coming under increasing pressure from developers, despite government promises to protect them.

Figures obtained by the BBC show that the annual number of planning applications on sports grounds has gone up by nearly two thirds in the last two years.

girl
Local youngsters are unhappy at the plans
Sport England, the body set up to promote sport and recreation, wants planning guidelines tightened to protect them.

Varndean College in Brighton illustrates the dilemma brought about by conflicting government policies.

The college has a thousand full-time teenage students and 1,500 adult learners.

Expansion

Its buildings are full, and many need refurbishing.

But it also needs to expand to cater for a "bulge" in the number of 16 to 18 year olds.

The college principal, Alan Jenkins, said the only way it could do this without a rich benefactor was to sell some land, because it has to raise two thirds of the costs of capital works.

Ex England soccer star Trevor Brooking, now chair of Sport England
Trevor Brooking says the nation's health will suffer
So it intends to sell off three acres of land for housing.

"As a parent, if I found that a place was going to be denied because nobody had had the forward thinking to make the places available I would be very upset about that," said the chair of the college's governors, Paul Loman.

In 1999/00 there were 590 planning applications involving sports grounds, then 860.

This year, the BBC has learned, is on course for 945.

Two government pledges - more college places and more houses - are at odds with a third - to stop playing fields being sold off.

Varndean's plan has upset local youngsters who play on the field earmarked for development, which is shared with four schools.

Opposition

Campaigners against the proposal have been out leafleting homes to raise awareness.

college principal
Alan Jenkins: "No choice"
Peter Field of the Varndean Action Committee said: "If a decision is made that this area can be built on not only will it create a very serious precedent but we will lose those facilities.

"And once they're lost we will never regain them."

Former England football star Trevor Brooking, who now chairs Sport England, wants to see a new national strategy.

"We're not going to win it just on the sporting argument now, we have got to accept, but it's gone up the government agenda," he said.

"[There are] huge problems of obesity - not just in youngsters that is in adults as well.

"The lack of physical activity - what will that mean for the health service, which is struggling now, in 15, 20 years' time? It will be in serious trouble."

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The BBC's Jake Lynch
"It would make 5m for the college"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | Health
Diabetes threat to children
24 May 00 | Education
Playing fields still disappearing
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