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Wednesday, 5 April, 2000, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Playing field sell-offs continue
An advisory panel will scrutinise playing field sell-off plans
As the government promises new measures to protect school playing fields - there are claims that the Department for Education is still approving large numbers of sell-offs.

Despite a series of public commitments from the government to preserve school playing fields, the National Playing Fields Association says that its latest figures - up to March 2000 - show that 96% of sell-off applications are still being approved.

In the past 18 months there have been 103 applications to change the use of land away from school paying fields, says the association, and of these 99 had been agreed by the Department for Education.
nigel hook
Nigel Hook: "Is the government robust enough?"
But the Department for Education says that almost half the approvals related to closing schools - and that 70% of sales resulted in improved alternative facilities.

However, casting doubt on the government's figures, the National Playing Fields Association says that the way sales are now counted disguises the full scale of sell-offs.

The association says that non-grass playing areas of under half an acre no longer appear in statistics, which means that many primary school play areas could be lost without being counted as a lost sports facility.

There has been continued concern at the loss of playing fields, prompted by schools seeking to raise funds by selling off valuable land to property developers.

Last year the government promised a tough new policy on playing fields sales, which it said would make it difficult for schools to sell off land used for sport.

Disappointing figures

But despite the latest "very disappointing figures", the association's director, Elsa Davies, says she is optimistic that proposals announced on Wednesday, will be "good news" and will limit further loss of playing fields.

In a package of measures to boost school sport, the government has announced the creation of an advisory committee which will scrutinise applications for playing fields sell-offs.

This committee, which will include the National Playing Fields Association, will make recommendations - but the final decision will remain with the secretary of state.

"We're quite heartened by this move, which should help to reduce the loss of playing fields," said Ms Davies. The measures already put in place by the government, she said, were "clearly not strong enough".

Fewer sell-offs

And Nigel Hook of the Council for Physical Recreation said the government's new strategy did not address the need for children to have the chance to take part in swimming, or to play football on grass pitches.

"There are still very strong question marks over whether the government has had the robust commitment to stop the sale of school playing fields," he said.

The Department for Education rejected the suggestion that it was allowing too many sales to go ahead - saying that under the previous government sales of school playing fields were running at 40 per month.

"The presumption is always that there should not be the selling off playing fields," said a DfEE spokesperson. "They only go ahead when there is a very good reason - such as a school closing down."

But even in such cases, the NPFA doubted the wisdom of playing fields being redeveloped - as school playing fields might be the only playing fields available to the wider community.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Education
School sport goes for gold
06 Jan 00 | Education
Playing fields sell-out accusation
08 Jun 99 | Education
Minister blocks playing field sales
16 Jul 99 | Education
Playing fields saved by minister
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