Sport and Physical Activity: Playing Fields

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Shadow Minister (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Other Whip, People With Disabilities, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 11:00 am, 4th November 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many playing fields and accessible open public spaces are needed to achieve their targets for physical activity and sport.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, it is estimated that approximately 27,000 sites contain playing pitches in England, and the Government have put in place a number of effective measures to protect them. However, there is no one-to-one relationship between the number of playing fields and open spaces and the Government's targets on physical facilities and sport. Playing fields are only one of many ways in which the Government are working to increase participation in physical activity. In addition to suitable outdoor provision, we need better indoor provision such as multi-sport facilities. We need to make better use of our stock of existing sports facilities.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Shadow Minister (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Other Whip, People With Disabilities, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he accept that, if we want to use sport as one of the main driving forces towards greater physical activity, especially in the long term, we need to address seriously such anomalies as 94 per cent of changing rooms for football being unsuitable for women, according to the Football Foundation? What exactly are the overall targets for greater physical activity?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, of course I do not disagree with what the noble Lord says about there being, in the classic phrase, much more to do. However, a huge amount is being done in this area. The new opportunities for PE and school sports programmes involve £630 million in England and Wales. The NOF green spaces programme has £22 million for playing fields, and the Football Foundation is funding 550 projects at a cost of £62 million.

Photo of Baroness Billingham Baroness Billingham Labour

My Lords, the question is inextricably linked with the sale of school playing fields, which has caused great anger and anxiety in all parts of the House. Can the Minister give us a definitive statement of the Government's policy on the issue? Can we once and for all lay aside the allegation that we are asset-stripping that vital and priceless facility?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, there has been a great deal of anxiety about planning applications for playing fields, which I quite understand. In most cases, such applications are needed for the changing-room facilities and so on, so very few mean losing playing-field space. Of the approved planning applications, 90 per cent benefit sport or do not in any way damage it. The Department for Education and Skills and the National Playing Fields Association have now agreed a formula whereby, if there is any financial benefit from the disposal of playing fields, it will go on outdoor sporting recreational facilities.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister accept that governing bodies such as the National Playing Fields Association and the CCPR believe that there are nothing like sufficient playing facilities in schools if children are to translate and transfer to sports clubs later on? Will he also agree that the safeguards that he has told us have been put in place to stop the sale of school playing fields have not worked satisfactorily, and that such sales are still going on?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, I agree with the first question but not the second. As I made clear, there is a huge backlog of investment and maintenance, particularly in school playing fields. The figures that I gave show how determined we are to make up that backlog, but I do not claim that it can be done in a year or two. I have already answered the second question. The number of applications for changes to school playing fields that involve the loss of playing-field facilities is completely minimal now. I made the advantages gained by facilities from the planning changes clear in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Shadow Minister (Sport), Home Affairs

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the important measures to protect sports buildings, such as pavilions, from demolition that were announced by the Government on 24 July 2000. Why has nothing happened in the subsequent four and a half years? Why do they continue to postpone the legislation?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, some such matters require legislation and some do not. One of the most important issues has been strengthening protection through public planning guidance 17 in July, which has gone a long way to answering the noble Lord's questions without the need for legislation.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one reason why sport flourishes so much in Australia is that Australian sport clubs are able to gain substantial revenues from gambling? If we are to have in this country an extension of slot machines with high payouts and an extension of the amount that people gamble, would that not be better done for the benefit of sport clubs, in an environment that is at least some form of community rather than in the anonymous and vast American-style casinos proposed in the current Bill?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Media and Heritage)

My Lords, the noble Lord will have plenty of opportunity to display his prejudices on those matters. There is no plan for a vast extension of what Australians call "pokies" in this country. Certainly, there is no plan to have, as in Australia, either provincial or national government dependent on gambling revenues for things such as sport.