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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 Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions) 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

The Government are committed to the protection of school playing fields. Since 1998 we have ensured that only school pitches that are surplus to the needs of local schools and their communities are sold and that all the money is ploughed back into improving sports or educational facilities.

Schedule 22 to the 1998 Act, which this schedule amends, provides protection for land held by the governing bodies or trustees of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools, and by foundation bodies. We are extending the protection for former local authority land held by the trustees of foundation schools. Section 77 of the 1998 Act provides further protection for school playing fields in particular, including land owned by local authorities and governing bodies and foundation bodies. The legislation protects school playgrounds and recreation areas as well as whole sports fields.

Local authorities and schools wishing to dispose of playing fields must satisfy rigorous criteria before their applications can be approved. These are set out in the department's guidance, which makes clear that disposal of playing fields will be allowed only if the sports and curriculum needs of the school disposing of the land and neighbouring schools continue to be met. Community usage of the school playing fields is also a consideration in decisions.

With reference to the substance of the amendment, it is the Secretary of State's policy that any sale proceeds must be reinvested first in outdoor sports facilities where possible; or, if not, in indoor sport or education facilities. This means that where school playing fields are disposed of there is no diminution in the standard of recreational facilities available to schools and local communities.

The Secretary of State has established an independent school playing fields advisory panel to advise on the extent to which applications meet the criteria.

These measures demonstrate our commitment to protection. We have set out rigorous criteria which those wishing to dispose of land must satisfy. We have put in place an independent panel of experts and we insist that any proceeds must normally be ploughed back into alternative sports provision.

There might be circumstances where local authorities or schools wishing to dispose of playing fields can demonstrate that recreational provision in the area is already of a sufficiently high quality and that the proceeds of sale should be used to provide better education or community facilities. Where they do this, having met the criteria set out and having satisfied the Secretary of State and the independent panel, we believe that they should not be prevented from investing in such facilities. Hence I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.