All-weather Sports Pitches

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th March 2007.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh PPS (Andy Burnham, Minister of State), Department of Health 2:30 pm, 5th March 2007

What steps she is taking to increase the provision of all-weather sports pitches.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Access to a wide range of good quality sports facilities, including all-weather sports pitches, is an essential part of enabling people to lead healthier lives and to participate in sport. That is why we have invested over £1 billion in more than 4,000 sports facilities. As part of that, there has been unprecedented investment in all-weather pitches, including £58 million from the lottery and £50 million from the Football Foundation, creating a new generation of such facilities across the country. There are now 1,535 public sector all-weather pitches in England, just under 70 per cent. of which have been built or refurbished since 1997.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh PPS (Andy Burnham, Minister of State), Department of Health

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for opening the Denhale recreation centre in my constituency in November. We very much appreciated his being able to be with us. The district of Wakefield has five third-generation pitches, but none of them is in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend and his officials work with me to ensure that the people working so hard to provide out-of-hours sporting activity for young people—in football, rugby league and rugby union—can do so whatever the weather?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Some £50 million of funding for more than 260 sports projects has been invested in Wakefield local authority. I understand that that is not necessarily coterminous with my hon. Friend's constituency, but we will look into that.

It is important that all Members contact their local authorities about planning. One major issue is the lighting and noise associated with third-generation and artificial pitches, which means that we cannot open them for as long as they ought to be open. One or two nimbies are stopping us using sports facilities by imposing planning restrictions on the use of lights, for example. I hope that all Members will raise this issue with their local authority's planning department and get their local paper to campaign for the maximum use of such weather-proofed facilities.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Macclesfield rugby union football club boasts an all-weather pitch, which is hugely useful and much used by young people. The club has a thriving mini rugby section, which plays every week. What additional help can the Minister give to clubs that go out of their way to provide facilities for young people, particularly in respect of the use of all-weather pitches?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the club that he represents. We want more of those facilities, but every time we build an artificial pitch on a grass area that was used for sport, it is classed as the closure of a sports field. That is a weakness in the way we compile statistics in the Department. Yes, we need more floodlit, third-generation artificial pitches that can be used 24/7, if necessary. We want to maximise their availability for our young people, along with the quality coaching that we are providing alongside those pitches, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

My right hon. Friend has yet to visit the fabulous athletics track at Ellesmere Port that was opened by Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2005. That is a wonderful, Olympic-standard facility, but, unfortunately, the school where it is located may be earmarked for closure in the near future. Will he liaise closely with the Department for Education and Skills and Cheshire county council to ensure that that valuable resource is properly protected?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

It would be remiss if we did not put on record our thanks to Tanni Grey-Thompson, who retired last week. She was a fantastic role model in disability sports in particular, but in sports in general. She also coached me for the marathon, but I shall not go into that story. She was obviously successful— [Laughter.]

It is great that hon. Members on both sides of the House are congratulating the Labour Government on what they have done for sports facilities. That is heart-warming. My hon. Friend knows that we have introduced tough planning regimes, so that any closure of any playing field has to be referred to Sport England, which has a tough remit to preserve and extend facilities. I have no doubt that we will look carefully at the case that my hon. Friend raises and will continue to increase the stock of good sports facilities up and down the country.