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Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 18:38 GMT
Playing fields sell-out accusation

Hockey School sports fields are under pressure from developers

The Department for Education has rejected claims that it is allowing the sale of school playing fields to continue unchecked.

But the National Playing Fields Association is supporting claims made by a newspaper that school playing fields are continuing to disappear, as cash-strapped schools sell land to developers.

According to the Daily Mail, 101 out of 103 applications for selling school playing fields in the last 15 months have been approved by the Department for Education, despite the government's commitment to protect playing fields.

But a government spokesman says that a third of these approvals related to schools which were closing down and that more than half of the sell-offs still resulted in improved sports facilities - after money from sales had been spent on alternative playing fields or sports halls.

The government also points to the sharp reduction in the total number of applications for selling school playing fields, arguing that tighter restrictions on sales have discouraged attempts to sell land.

'Immensely disappointed'

At present there are an average of 10 applications for selling playing fields each month, compared with 40 under the last government, the Department for Education says.

However the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA), which campaigns to protect open spaces for recreation and sports, says that it is "immensely disappointed" by the government's record on protecting playing fields.

And the NPFA rejects the claim that where there have been land sales, the replacement facilities are equivalent or better than those lost, arguing that many schools are swapping outdoor playing fields for indoor sports halls or gyms.

"Sports halls and indoor facilities are no replacement for playing fields on which young people can gain their first introduction to the world of sport," said the NFPA's director, Elsa Davies.

The claims that the government is continuing to allow the redevelopment of school playing fields follow its public assertions last year that it had stemmed the tide of school land sales.

"This government believes playing fields are an invaluable resource. As well as providing an outdoor classroom, they add to local people's quality of life. Their loss almost always causes widespread concern," said the then Schools Minister, Charles Clarke, in July 1999.

Schools have been put under pressure to sell playing fields to raise funds, particular in cities and suburban areas where rises in property and land prices have made open land very valuable.
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See also:
08 Jun 99 |  Education
Minister blocks playing field sales
16 Jul 99 |  Education
Playing fields saved by minister
28 Sep 99 |  Education
Goal for competitive school sports

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