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Education Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

Amendment No. 150ZA would effectively forbid the trustees of a foundation school or foundation special school disposing of land used by either the pupils of the relevant school or members of the local community for recreational or sporting purposes unless alternative provision has been acquired.

Recreational space is a vital part of every community, especially the land offered by schools. But despite its importance, an average of one playing field every day comes under threat from building development. There is no statutory protection for our playing fields, so the country's irreplaceable recreational heritage and future sporting facilities are constantly at risk.

Statistics produced by the DfES for October 1998 to December 2002 show that the number of applications received for playing field disposals where the area is larger than a sports pitch was 168. Of those, 118 were approved, 19 were withdrawn and only two were rejected. The number of applications received for playing field disposals where the area is smaller than a sports pitch was 102, of which 84 were approved, 10 were withdrawn and four were rejected. Therefore the overall picture during the period was 202 approvals and only six rejections.

We are aware of the then Education Secretary's move, announced last summer, in strengthening guidance on school playing fields disposals that would require town halls which wanted to sell off fields having to show that they had no other means of raising the cash. They would also have to reinvest any proceeds from the sales in new outdoor facilities "wherever possible", such as floodlighting or new drainage systems for remaining sports pitches.

However, such guidance does not apply to foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools. This is a serious loophole that the amendment attempts both to highlight and close.

Furthermore, the Government's new position on protecting playing fields applies only to proposals which are for disposals of land capable of being used as a sports pitch of at least 1.2 hectares, or half an acre. The new requirements relating to the use of proceeds will not apply to disposals of smaller parcels of land. We believe the amendment is an important means of protecting such sporting and recreational facilities under the control of foundation schools. I beg to move.