Playing Fields

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:08 pm on 1st June 2005.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:08 pm, 1st June 2005

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2615, in the name of Mike Watson, on protecting land used for organised sport and other forms of physical activity. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the continuing diminution in the number of sports pitches and open space across Scotland, despite the efforts of sportscotland and the National Playing Fields Association Scotland; believes that this will make it more difficult for the Scottish Executive to achieve its stated aim of improving the health of young people in Scotland and reducing levels of obesity; endorses the need, as expressed in the report of the Physical Activity Task Force, for all primary and secondary pupils to have a minimum of two hours each week of quality physical education, and considers that the Executive should ensure that more robust measures are introduced to the planning process to protect land used for organised sport and other forms of physical activity.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Independent 5:11 pm, 1st June 2005

I am unequivocal in my belief that the starting point for a debate on the provision of playing fields in Scotland is the need for Scots to tackle the serious state of our health. All members are familiar with the statistics on heart disease, smoking and cancer, but they might not know that every week in Scotland, 42 people die of heart disease because they are inactive. That will continue to happen until we do something about it.

In fairness, the Executive is attempting to do something about the situation. As part of its response it established the physical activity task force, to make recommendations on a strategy for increasing physical activity throughout Scotland. The task force reported two years ago and set a target, among others, for 50 per cent of adults over 16 and 80 per cent of children to achieve the minimum recommended level of physical activity by 2022. The timescale that was deemed to be necessary for the target to be met highlights the scale of inactivity in the country.

The Minister for Education and Young People responded by announcing what he described as

"the biggest boost to physical education in schools for generations."

He pledged that there would be more time for physical education and that an additional 400 PE teachers would be provided to deliver that. He also undertook to ensure that there would be

"sufficient flexibility in the curriculum to allow schools to accommodate the provision of at least 2 hours of good quality physical education for each child every week, and more if possible", which was crucial. The aim was to meet that target by the start of the academic year 2008-09.

The Executive's role is to provide the legislative framework, but the primary responsibility for protecting leisure and open spaces lies with local authorities. Local authorities are encouraged to undertake open space audits, as outlined in planning advice note 65, which was published two years ago as an enhancement of national planning policy guideline 11. The Executive claims that the underlying aim of the guidance is to safeguard playing fields and sports pitches by discouraging development that is likely to conflict with local needs. NPPG 11 confirms that playing fields should not be developed except in three, distinct circumstances, one of which is a situation in which

"there would be no loss of amenity and alternative provision of equal community benefit and accessibility would be made available".

The word "accessibility" is key, and I will return to it.

What is the extent of the problem? According to figures that were supplied by sportscotland, which is a statutory consultee on planning applications that affect playing field land, since NPPG 11 came into force nine years ago the overall net loss of playing fields is 112. The figure must be compared with the 6,000 playing fields that are still in use, but it conceals a worrying trend. Between 2000 and 2003, the number of planning applications on which sportscotland was consulted in relation to playing field sites remained fairly consistent, at around 60 per year. However, in 2004 alone, 118 such applications were received. According to sportscotland, the marked increase in applications is due primarily to the large number of new and refurbished schools that are being provided through private finance initiative or public-private partnership projects. As the National Playing Fields Association Scotland has commented, when two schools are merged, the number of pupils at the new school is often similar to the combined rolls of the merged schools, although pupils have access to only half the sports and recreational facilities that were formerly available.

Of course, the majority of the pitches that were lost were blaes or ash, and many pitches were converted to grass or synthetic turf, which is welcome. The major issue is not just the quantity but the quality of pitches and the changing facilities that are attached to them.

Sportscotland works closely with local authorities to develop much-needed playing fields strategies, but the disposal of playing fields can be regarded as an easy way for local authorities to reduce revenue expenditure and realise capital. The pressure seems to be increasing for land that is currently used for sport to be given over to the developers.

The situation has certainly been reflected in the Parliament: the Public Petitions Committee has recently received a number of petitions to do with threats to existing pitches and to open space of various kinds. Their potential loss is vigorously opposed by local communities and organisations—with some success. For instance, it was heartening to hear in March that the proposal by South Ayrshire Council to build a school on the old Ayr racecourse was defeated. However, many more battles remain to be fought—not least the current battle in North Ayrshire, where a proposed new school would result in a major loss of facilities.

In fairness, we need to consider some of the conflicts that local authorities face in the development versus open space argument. For many authorities, there is obvious structure plan pressure to provide not only more housing but increased housing choice. However, local authorities' approach to open space provision should not be an afterthought in such considerations, and pitch sports provision should not always be considered in terms of a numbers game. For example, Glasgow has almost 600 active pitches, but not all of them are effective. The question therefore arises: why preserve a certain number of playing fields that are underused when a smaller number of better quality facilities might be managed more cost-effectively and might be used more by the community?

Glasgow City Council has committed itself to a review of its pitch sports strategy, with financial support from sportscotland. The review is due to be completed in autumn and the strategy is regarded as essential to ensuring an adequate long-term supply. Glasgow is in the vanguard of local authorities with sports development strategies, but only 17 of Scotland's 32 councils have such strategies. The Executive should consider making them a statutory requirement.

School sports facilities and playgrounds must also act as a community resource outwith school hours. Accessibility is a key issue, both for formal pre-booked sports use and for informal free play. Local authorities must ensure that their management policies guarantee accessibility.

However, there are often constraints. In some schools built recently under PPP or PFI models, access to sports facilities is seriously restricted outwith school hours because of the terms of the maintenance contracts. That issue has to be overcome to ensure that new facilities are available as often as possible to as many people as possible. What on earth is the point of providing state-of-the-art facilities but then keeping them shut in the evenings or at weekends because the caretaker's overtime is seen as unaffordable?

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Independent

I do not have enough time, I am afraid.

Playing fields do not cater only for formal pitch sports use; they also offer space for children to play informal ball games, to run about and to enjoy general healthy and energetic activity. Playing fields also form an essential part of the environment, offering space for informal recreation, walks and so on.

We should maximise opportunities to ensure that existing managed facilities are accessible for informal use and are not restricted solely to groups who book and use them regularly. That brings me back to the points that I made on the need to open up school sports facilities—including playgrounds and synthetic pitches—outwith the school day. A further reason for maximising such use is that schools offer relatively safe environments for free play.

The Executive should use the forthcoming planning bill to strengthen NPPG 11 on the provision and protection of playing fields and open spaces, with a general presumption against a net loss of recreational space. The same legislation might also be the vehicle for strengthening the policing role of sportscotland by widening the scope of NPPG 11 to include formal recreational spaces under 0.4 hectares in size, thus including bowling greens and tennis courts. Consideration should also be given to making it a statutory requirement for local authorities to conduct a rolling pitch sports strategy.

Legislation certainly has a role in guarding against the loss of open spaces, and that places responsibility on the shoulders of the Executive. I am not speaking about only the minister with responsibility for sport, because crucial decisions will be made that will fall within the remits of the ministers responsible for health and education. The Executive regularly stresses its cross-cutting approach to policy making and legislation, and there are several examples of that to be seen. However, physical activity, physical education, the desire to have a healthier and longer-living population and the provision of good-quality sports facilities have not yet been interlinked as they will have to be if real changes are to be made. It is essential that that message is driven home to the Executive and to local authorities, so that we can achieve the kind of joined-up approach that will be necessary.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 5:19 pm, 1st June 2005

I associate myself with much of Mike Watson's analysis. I will confine my remarks to Edinburgh, because I think that quite a number of people want to speak in the debate.

In the provision of formal pitches, Edinburgh is probably better catered for than many other local authority areas. However, when we consider the formal pitches that have been introduced during a time when the overall number of pitches has diminished, we still have to question whether or not we have struck the right balance between long pitches and short pitches. I am not talking about the length of the pitch, but about the length of the artificial grass. For example, a long length is suitable for football and a short length is suitable for hockey. An important element of the general pitches strategy that is, I believe, required of each authority is that the authority should have a balance between the two sorts of pitches to reflect the balance in sporting activity.

I am not sure that the City of Edinburgh Council has that balance right. One reason why I say that is that, although an audit of Edinburgh's pitches has been completed, it has not been discussed by the council. That is worrying. One wonders why it was not discussed, but that might be something to do with the great pressures that the council faces. As Mike Watson described, the council faces competing pressures from the requirement for more housing in a burgeoning economy and the requirement to provide space in which people can exercise informally and formally.

Edinburgh has a mixed record in catering for informal, spontaneous and unorganised recreation and sport, which is another issue that Mike Watson mentioned. For example, although the pitches at Meggetland have been modernised and are supposedly greatly improved, they are also greatly diminished in size, with the opportunity for informal exercise and recreation much diminished. However, the polo fields just further up the road in Colinton are to remain because the council—in what, as far as I am concerned, was an admirable decision—passed up the chance to make what one expects might have been a great deal of money in council tax when it insisted that the playing fields were sacrosanct. As the matter is due to come before the minister, I look to him for a result on that appeal, which I do not believe should be upheld. However, I mention that just in passing.

Another important aspect that interests me is the need for public access to any new pitches that are provided. On that issue, we need to recognise the need to have a parkie who will look after the facility. Local authorities have got out of the habit of employing groundsmen and park-keepers to control and manage their facilities. I am sure that that is what Mike Watson meant when he talked about the need for a system of management. If local authorities are prevented from employing the necessary parkies mainly by a shortage of cash, I hope that the Executive will see them all right.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 5:22 pm, 1st June 2005

Mike Watson set out the subject of tonight's debate excellently and Margo MacDonald, as usual, made a very good contribution. I want to concentrate on three aspects in the following chronological order: children's playgrounds; the need for pitches; and the need to fund people, which, after pitches, is most important.

Children's playgrounds have been another casualty of the pressure on space but, as all members know, their misuse by older young people also means that the nimbys often want to get rid of them. However, children's playgrounds are important facilities for which imaginative programmes can be developed. I happen to be involved in the Nancy Ovens Trust, which gives awards to imaginative children's playground projects that involve children and the community in their development. Good work is taking place, but there is a need for much more. We should invest more in getting children active at the very youngest age, and therefore children's playgrounds are important.

Pitches are a critical issue. In my role as a sports spokesperson, I have been trying to help a group to develop football facilities in Edinburgh and the surrounding area. The group has drawn my attention to the very good playing fields that belong to two high schools adjacent to each other on the west side of the city. It seems that, partly due to a PFI scheme, people are losing that important community resource, which is going down the tubes. The preservation of pitches is important. Although one good artificial pitch can get a lot more use than a grass pitch, grass pitches are also important. As Margo MacDonald said, we need to look after pitches properly.

Even more important are the people. I helped to create an artificial pitch in one area when I was involved in Edinburgh, but it was underused. The people in the area were not good at organising activities. We should be funding people. So far, the system for funding the coaches—who are absolutely critical to getting and keeping young people involved in sport—is totally inadequate. The people who run clubs have to waste huge amounts of time in raising rather piffling sums of money when we could adequately fund them.

The issue of adequately funding such organisations is critical. We are talking not about huge sums: the two athletic clubs with which I am involved in Edinburgh because of my past interests need only a few hundred pounds—perhaps £1,000 or £2,000 at the most—to help to pay for buses and so on to go to meetings. Such sums would make a huge difference to clubs. We are talking not about big money but about well-spent money that could go towards supporting clubs and people. The money could be used to attract people into voluntary activity in running sports, coaching and management.

The subject is important and we are happy to debate it. I have great confidence in the minister. I hope that she will get a real grip on the points at issue.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 5:26 pm, 1st June 2005

I thank Mike Watson for bringing this very important debate to the chamber once again. It is a subject that is at the height of its importance.

Although I am not an advocate of sport itself, I find myself being drawn into the debate. If I was asked to elaborate on that, I would say that I am being drawn into a debate about sport, the land that we use for open space and sport and the increasing relevance of land and planning issues in achieving the Government objective of enhancing the importance of physical activity, particularly among young people. All the constituency issues that I want to talk about tonight seem to return to that theme. That is why the debate is important to me and the people I represent.

I represent Glasgow Kelvin, which is a constituency in the heart of urban Scotland. Although the area has had enormous economic success, which has resulted in massive benefits for the people of Glasgow, more benefits still need to be achieved. Mike Watson alluded earlier to the increasing demand on space. I want to put on record my admiration for Glasgow City Council, and in particular the people responsible for its park and leisure services, for its robust policy on protecting open spaces. We have to look at further protection and reforms in order to protect the spaces that we have at present.

Key to the debate is a combination of policies, including planning, and our ideals in relation to sport and the environment. Members of the public from Dowanhill in my constituency, in the heart of the west end of Glasgow, have petitioned the Public Petitions Committee on the potential loss of a local tennis club. The removal of the club flies in the face of the demands of local people, including young people, who want to join the club and play tennis.

However, current policies may mean that people in my constituency will lose their tennis club, as the land on which it is built may be turned into 64 flats. More should be done to protect the facility. Ultimately, the local authority will determine whether it is willing to support the application. I feel reasonably confident that the council has grounds on which to reject it.

Mike Watson spoke about planning guidance. It is important for us to look at the detail of applications. Some developers will argue that because alternative facilities are available, they can build on a sports ground. That is fine, but I want to make it clear, particularly in the case of the tennis court to which I referred, that a facility that is three miles down the road and which is more expensive and less accessible is not an alternative. That point is critical in terms of the policy guidelines.

I know that I am not alone in saying that children in constituencies such as mine live in built-up areas. Indeed, 70 per cent of the property in my constituency is tenement property, and very few such properties have gardens. Children need to have their space protected. If we want them to participate in sport for the good of their own health, we need to protect those facilities.

As has been said, there is a link between sport and tackling obesity in young people. That point leads me to address another constituency issue. Broomhill sports club, which I have talked about previously in the Parliament, is a club of local parents with primary school children who have clubbed together to promote sport for their children. However, they need facilities. I must say that Glasgow City Council has come to the rescue—it looks as though football pitches will be freed up for the club to use. However, to return to a point that Mike Watson made, the club cannot afford to use some of the school pitches at the weekend, particularly those of schools in which a PFI refurbishment has been carried out. We must consider ways of tackling that issue, because the weekend is when the club wants to use the facilities.

In my final 30 seconds, I want to talk about the importance of including everyone in the policy. Another project that has been established through parent power is Victoria park inclusion for play. Glasgow is to host the special Olympics, which I will advertise this Saturday in Sauchiehall Street—I have agreed to busk there with some local councillors and MSPs, although God knows why. The idea is to highlight the importance of the special Olympics to Glasgow. They are another platform that we can use to highlight the importance of sport to our country and to argue for an all-inclusive policy.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 5:31 pm, 1st June 2005

I congratulate Mike Watson on securing the debate.

I must make my way to Sauchiehall Street this Saturday to see how Pauline McNeill gets on.

Playing fields and open spaces are more important now for our society than they have been at any time in the past. The days when kids were able to play freely in the streets with a ball have long gone. Playing fields and open spaces are now the main areas that children must use to play, for their personal safety. Only this week, in evidence to the Enterprise and Culture Committee, representatives of the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League highlighted the fact that access to decent facilities such as playing fields and open spaces is key to driving up the number of kids who are involved in physical activities and sport.

I acknowledge the work of sportscotland and the National Playing Fields Association Scotland in trying to preserve open spaces and playing fields where possible, but there is a process of continual erosion of such spaces. The Executive must address three aspects in trying to offset that on-going process. First, like Mike Watson, I believe that the default position in planning decisions should be in favour of protecting playing fields and open spaces. I hope that the forthcoming planning bill, which is to be introduced later this year, will provide an opportunity to achieve that. A report that was published in March highlighted that, in the past 10 years alone, 19 per cent of our secondary schools have lost playing grounds or sports fields because of the need for ground for development. Half of the spaces that were lost were football or sports playing grounds. As members have said, local councils are often forced into selling off open space or football and sports fields to finance school building developments.

The second aspect that must be addressed is the need to ensure that existing facilities are properly maintained. I have visited many ash parks that are almost grass parks purely because of poor maintenance by the local authority. It is crucial that available facilities are suitably maintained by local authorities to ensure that clubs and individuals can use them. A complaint that I often hear from sports clubs is that the grass in the parks that are available is poorly maintained.

The third aspect that must be addressed is accessibility, which several members have highlighted. I recently spoke to the manager of the Denny Rio football club, who runs a school football team. He was given a quote of more than £170 to use an all-weather football pitch at a PPP school in Falkirk, which was a cost that the team could not afford. In Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, local football clubs have been given a quote of more than £200 to hire an all-weather football pitch for two hours at Broadwood stadium. They cannot afford to use the facility.

We must protect what we have and maintain existing facilities to a proper standard so that they can continue to be used. Facilities also need to be affordable so that local sports clubs and individuals may use them when they need to.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:35 pm, 1st June 2005

Mike Watson has done us a favour by raising this issue for debate, and Pauline McNeill did well to widen it out beyond publicly owned sports facilities to cover privately owned tennis and bowling clubs. The essential difficulty in the private sector is the huge value of development land and the pressure on private owners to cash in on that. I suggest that, as well as using the planning guidelines that Mike Watson mentioned, we might also usefully consider a number of other changes to planning policy.

One such change might be to find a market solution to the way in which we zone land. Should we consider trying to bring down the development value of land by allowing for greater density in certain sectors? Should we be looking into the release and supply of land at what developers would call the quality end of the market, where, it is argued, choice is limited? In the absence of choice and supply, the remedy that the market applies is to bid prices up, so that small pockets of land in Glasgow and Edinburgh and other pressured housing markets command huge sums of money.

We might also usefully consider how we take community benefit from the planning process. We have been building up an elaborate system of planning gain. Ostensibly, that is a tax on the development industry; however, in practice it is a tax on the purchasers of houses. We do not apply any pressure to the owners of land that is made available for development. By and large, the landowner is able simply to take his substantial cut from the process. Should we be considering the possibility of having some sort of development tariff, which would take the community benefit from the landowner, reducing the element of profit that is available to the owner—rather than the developer—thereby reducing the temptation for small sports clubs such as bowling and tennis clubs to cash in on their assets?

The situation in the public sector is a different matter altogether. There, things are not necessarily driven by councils trying to cash in on the value of their land—although I am aware of some cases of that. To a substantial extent, the current difficulty seems to be that councils are driven by the PPP process to close an affordability gap, perhaps by selling land on which to build houses, as East Dunbartonshire Council is looking to do in Milngavie to help to fund its project.

Councils might not have enough of an allocation, as is the case for North Ayrshire Council, which is considering having one superschool on what appears to be the only site in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats area where such a school could be accommodated and the only site that the council owns. North Ayrshire Council cannot afford to buy land from anywhere else so it has ended up proposing a massive development on what is the key open space within the community. The situation is totally dividing the community between those who are desperate for the new school to go ahead—because it is needed—and those who justifiably want to preserve the amenity of their open space.

Is there a role in the process for the Executive to examine closely the detailed PPP bids that come in from councils, recognising where the mechanism puts pressure on councils in effect to overdevelop? Is there a case for authorities such as North Ayrshire Council to be given the resource to redevelop the two existing schools on site, so that the community can have the schools that it needs and retain the open space and playing fields that it wants passionately to preserve? That is an important area and the Executive needs to consider the pressures under which it is placing councils and whether, in some cases, they should be relaxed.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 5:39 pm, 1st June 2005

I thank Mike Watson for securing the debate. I must congratulate Murray Tosh on raising an issue concerning North Ayrshire that is close to my heart and to Campbell Martin's heart. One of the schools concerned is in the South of Scotland region, while the other is in the West of Scotland. I am glad that that matter has been raised, and I endorse everything that Murray Tosh said on the issue and I thank him for it.

We are always going on about antisocial behaviour, the way young people dress and whether we should ban them from places, and the Education Committee is examining pupil motivation and taking evidence to help in ensuring that young people are engaging in school and are achieving, so today's debate is timeous.

Open spaces and playing fields are important because they create fit and healthy children and young people, diminish problems of obesity, allow self-esteem to be raised through achievement and introduce all sorts of ways for children to develop as individuals in their own right. They also enhance the opportunity for young people to adopt positive lifestyles.

Sporting and play activities allow young people to develop, so to provide opportunities for that is far better than concentrating on tackling antisocial behaviour through punitive measures. If we focus more on investing in young people and on funding facilities than we do on taking such facilities away, we will make much more progress in solving the problems in our communities. It is a huge contradiction that at the same time as we are talking about trying to minimise antisocial behaviour, about connecting with our young people and about getting rid of obesity, we are taking away playing fields and green spaces through PPP school projects and retail developments. That is a short-sighted and negative approach, because the message that is sent is that nobody cares.

I would like us to put in more facilities, rather than take them away. Our communities should have sports and play facilities that are accessible to young people; they should not have to travel miles to find facilities because there should be green spaces on their doorsteps in which they can develop their play activities. Those spaces should be supervised and maintained by local authorities. It is in such spaces that investment comes in: it will be investment that will last and from which we will benefit in the longer term through having healthier, happier and more active young people.

Pauline McNeill talked about private tennis courts. In Irvine, when I was a young person—quite a while ago now—we had tennis courts that we all used and loved. There was only one set of such courts and they were a focus for the community. Over the years they were run down and now lie derelict. Such is the feeling in the community that there was a recent well-attended meeting to try to get the local authority to resurrect the tennis courts. There is nowhere else in Irvine to learn tennis. That is the kind of investment that we need.

I endorse what was said about encouraging volunteers. There is nothing more disheartening than people running football teams and having to focus on fundraising, rather than on what they are there to do.

We need to consider planning, which I am glad has been mentioned. I am disappointed that the third-party right of appeal seems to be disappearing off the agenda. I would like to it brought back.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by 20 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended until 6.18 pm.—[Murray Tosh.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 5:43 pm, 1st June 2005

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I get enough ribbing about that.

I join other members in congratulating Mike Watson on securing the debate. He is right to suggest that the issue is a matter of national concern. I have made regular representations to the Scottish Executive on it over the years. There certainly seem to be substantial discrepancies between national policy on social and environmental justice and local planning priorities.

I turn to my area. What I will say follows on from what Murray Tosh said; I agree with many of the points that he made. In 2002, North Lanarkshire Council undertook a consultation on its proposal to refurbish schools in the area. One of the options for the Coatbridge development included building on Dunbeth park—a beautiful Victorian park that serves a central function in staging events, provides the only green space in a built-up part of the town and is well used by adults and children alike. During the initial consultation the community strongly resisted that option, but concerns were allayed in 2003 when the council adopted an option that involved building the new school and all its associated facilities on the site of an existing school and did not use the park.

However, following reports last year that the local authority had declared part of Dunbeth park to be surplus to the requirements of the community services department, I wrote to the council, only to be informed that outline planning permission had been agreed for a full-size floodlit Astroturf football pitch on the park. That planning permission was awarded without further consultation of the community. The local college was the only body to be notified, and it objected. When I asked the chief executive about that turnaround, I was informed that, in the PPP process, the bidders were responsible for proposing design solutions and that, accordingly, 1.44 hectares of Dunbeth park had been identified as an area in which the facility should be built.

From that, it seemed to me that the PPP bidders were steering the location of the facility through their design process and that their views and objectives took precedence over the concerns of the community. Indeed, the council originally stated a preference that the facility be built on the school site. I have been advised by building professionals that there is no reason why it could not be built on that site, although that might have increased the construction costs, which would make the project run the risk of exceeding the public sector comparator, which might have meant that the council would not have qualified for PPP funding.

During the later stages of the planning process, 575 letters of objection were received by the council along with a substantial petition with about 2,000 signatures. At meetings, there was massive turnout of local people who were against the plans and at which the local councillor stated her support for the community's position. Nonetheless, the project looks set to go ahead. I found the experience to be disheartening and thought that the cavalier attitude of the local planner was cause for concern.

I acknowledge that the development will provide improved football facilities for the school, but, those facilities could be provided within the school grounds. I am concerned about the fact that a substantial portion of green space has been handed over for a facility that community members, including children, will have to pay to access. The children are unlikely to be able to afford to do so. I represented the community at the planning meeting, but it was to no avail.

The historical and aesthetic significance of the park make it important to the people of Coatbridge. It is a well-used resource whose nature will be altered by the development, which will impinge on valuable green space. Development of the park in that way seems to run contrary to the wider social and environmental justice agenda. I hope that, even at the 11th hour, the friends of Dunbeth park will be listened to and the facility will be built within the school grounds, where it should be.

Having been to the planning hearing to represent people, I do not know where to turn. I hope that the minister will be able to suggest how Dunbeth park can be saved from development.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 5:47 pm, 1st June 2005

We should be grateful to Mike Watson for raising this important matter.

There is pressure on local authorities to sell playing fields to developers in order to finance new school building projects. As a result, there are fewer playing facilities for school pupils and the wider community. For example, concerns have been expressed to me by constituents in the Denny area, where Falkirk Council has decided to locate the new Denny high school on Herbertshire playing fields and to sell a considerable proportion of the existing school grounds for housing development. Of course, everybody in the area wants a new high school building. As I said, however, concerns have been expressed about a possible net reduction of open space, including playing space.

When I took the matter up with sportscotland, I was told that sportscotland withdrew its objections to the proposals because they deliver pitch provision that is at least as good as the existing provision in terms of both quality and capacity. However, sportscotland emphasises that its consideration of the proposals relates only to their impact on the provision of sports facilities for the school and the community. Herbertshire playing fields are also used for a range of informal physical activities such as walking, cycling, running and kick-abouts, and sportscotland urged the council to ensure that the proposals will have no adverse impact in that regard. I hope, therefore, that appropriate action will be taken to ensure that there are adequate facilities for sports and other physical activities in the Denny area and throughout Scotland.

The National Playing Fields Association has set a 6-acre standard, which says that there should be a minimum of 6 acres of outdoor playing space for every 1,000 people, comprising 4 acres for outdoor sport and 2 acres for children's play. I urge the Scottish Executive to consider introducing a statutory basis for such a standard.

My other point is one about which I have written to the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport to request a meeting. There is concern about some sports clubs selling off playing fields and other sports facilities to developers. Many sports clubs are situated in prime sites that are attractive to property developers. Developers are targeting such clubs and offering them vast sums of money for their valuable land. Some of those clubs were established many years ago by philanthropists who gave their land for nothing, or next to nothing, and developed facilities with no thought of financial gain. Now, some greedy and selfish people who have put little or nothing into the clubs but happen to be members at a given time are selling them for personal gain. I have even heard of clubs whose membership has been deliberately run down in order to maximise the payout to the remaining members. Such asset stripping should be stopped. I accept that it is difficult for the Scottish Executive to intervene in the internal affairs of a private club, but some clubs receive considerable sums in council tax relief and relief from other taxes. It should be a condition of tax relief that the prohibition of such asset stripping is written into the club's constitution.

Pauline McNeill referred to a petition on the subject that has been presented to Parliament and, as I said, I have asked for a meeting with the minister. I hope that I will receive a positive response. In any event, I urge the Executive to take appropriate action to ensure that there are adequate sports facilities so that its declared policy of encouraging more people to take part in sport and other physical activity can be implemented.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 5:52 pm, 1st June 2005

I, too, congratulate Mike Watson on securing this evening's debate. The subject has been raised on several occasions in Parliament, most notably through the public petitions process.

Like Mike Watson, I am aware of two current petitions on the subject from Ayrshire. One is from the Laighdykes residents group in Ardrossan and Saltcoats and the other is from the save the old racecourse group in Ayr. I can update Mike Watson's information on the latter case. Although outline planning permission was refused by South Ayrshire Council's planning committee, the administration is to come forward with a detailed planning application.

In both the Ayrshire cases, the councils seem determined to ride roughshod over their own development plans and national planning policy guidelines by building new schools on well-used and established playing fields using PPP funding. It is clear that the strictures of national planning policy guideline 11 and planning advice note 65 are not having the desired effect. Paragraph 29 of NPPG 11 states:

"Robust planning policies are required to safeguard established open spaces, playing fields and access routes where they contribute to local community needs and enjoyment."

Crucially, it also states that

"Councils should lead by example and generally resist development of open space and playing fields in their ownership."

In the Ayrshire cases, there is also a clear conflict of interests, with the councils' being landowners, the education authorities or de facto planning applicants, and the planning authorities. Such cases pose an obvious danger to the integrity of the local planning system. Unfortunately, since the advent of PPP, they are becoming much more commonplace, as many members have said.

In that context, I refer members to a letter from sportscotland's acting chief executive. In response to the Public Petitions Committee's request for information on the Ayr old racecourse petition, he said:

"sportscotland is concerned about the amount of development pressure that current PPP proposals are placing on school playing fields."

He highlights the affordability gap in PPP projects, the lack of finance to acquire new sites for schools and the fact that few development plans have allocated new sites for schools.

Sportscotland observes that local authorities look to their own estates for suitable sites and that playing fields are often the preferred option because of their size and physical suitability for development. Sportscotland's statutory consultee status allows it to scrutinise all such proposals, but

"the dual influence of ... this 'affordability gap' and the determination of local authorities to take the opportunity that PPP presents means that they are in most cases determined to press ahead with their proposals."

In those circumstances, sportscotland feels constrained not to object but instead to seek concessions and reach compromises. The result is more lost playing fields. Given those unintended consequences of PPP funding, it is incumbent on the Executive to ensure that the development pressure on playing fields is relieved. I will be interested to hear what plans, if any, the minister has in that regard.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 5:56 pm, 1st June 2005

When I read Mike Watson's motion, I was particularly pleased that it mentioned open space as well as formal sporting facilities. We all agree on the value of those formal spaces, but informal areas—not just parks, but wild spaces—are important if we want to encourage children, and particularly young children, to get into the habit of active play, which can lead to a more active life and to better health later. Donald Gorrie and several other members mentioned that.

The loss of green spaces, open spaces and sporting facilities is one of the issues that has most frequently arrived on my desk in the two years since I joined the Parliament, and I am sure that every other member throughout Glasgow and well beyond would say the same. In north Glasgow, wild spaces have been threatened for luxury housing that is likely to cost about £300,000 or £400,000 a unit, which is not accessible to most people in the area. In Mike Watson's constituency, a small park that is known as the back park is under threat for housing. In one of the areas that are often dismissed as the leafy suburbs of the west end are the Dowanhill tennis courts, to which Pauline McNeill referred.

Members have also mentioned the North Ayrshire example, about which we were e-mailed today. What struck me from the communication about that situation was the perception that the local council is determined to bulldoze public opinion. That is a major feature of the problems that we have with how the planning system works. Whatever we think of the rights or wrongs of one case, the perception is that people's interests in and beliefs about how their communities should be developed are not being taken on board.

We should also acknowledge, as shown by the "Investigating environmental justice in Scotland" report that the Scottish Executive commissioned and which was published just last week, that the trend towards the loss of such spaces is worse in the most deprived and disadvantaged areas of Scotland, including parts of Glasgow.

The planning system not only fails to provide a safeguard, but is a source of the problem. Pauline McNeill was right to say that comparing different green spaces is not enough, because some spaces are not accessible or appropriate. Not even close and accessible alternatives are enough. Young people and particularly children want to have a choice of places to go to. The undeveloped and wild spaces that are not formally laid-out parks may be just a resource that is waiting to be exploited to a developer, but to children they are places waiting to be explored. We need to protect such areas.

We know that many planning consents are being granted for fear of the developer's right to appeal. That unfair appeal stage is part of the problem. The lack of enforcement in planning is another problem, particularly when developers make reapplication after reapplication with minor tweaks to ensure that consent for a development is eventually granted.

I am sorry to say that some councils are complicit by ignoring some spaces and allowing them to be degraded so that the local community feels less attachment and values them less, which means that fewer people object when applications are made to develop such spaces. I echo the disappointment that has been expressed about the Executive's apparent intentions with respect to equality and sustainability in the planning system.

Generations of our forebears would be unimpressed if they saw what we are doing to the legacy that Dennis Canavan spoke about. They dedicated spaces to their communities without being interested in personal gain, but we are ploughing up those spaces not only for schools and affordable social housing, but for luxury housing, car parks and supermarkets. Doing so is a shame on our generation.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent 6:00 pm, 1st June 2005

I am grateful to Mike Watson for lodging the motion, which, as we have heard, is about a serious and— unfortunately—increasing problem. Mike Watson and I are members of the Public Petitions Committee, to which a number of petitions have been submitted from local communities throughout Scotland that object to local authorities' plans to build on playing fields. Back in May 2004, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport—Frank McAveety—stated in response to a parliamentary question:

"Primary responsibility for the protection of playing fields lies with local authorities".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 5 May 2004; S2W-7718.]

Petitioners have asked what we can do if the primary responsibility for protecting our playing fields lies with local authorities that want to build on our playing fields.

As a result of that answer, I raised with the Deputy Minister for Communities the possibility of incorporating into the forthcoming planning bill a presumption against development on playing fields, so that if the National Playing Fields Association's minimum standard for playing space relative to population is not met, no development should be permitted on playing fields. We have an opportunity to include that presumption in the bill. I have not yet received a response from the minister—I hope that that means that she is seriously considering the matter.

There seems to be a lack of joined-up thinking in the Scottish Executive's bringing forward proposals and initiatives to encourage our youngsters to get back on to the playing fields and get involved in sport. Through PPP projects, the Executive is providing funding to local authorities that build on playing fields, thereby stopping our children getting back on to them. The gap must be bridged.

Rosemary Byrne, Murray Tosh, Adam Ingram and Patrick Harvie referred to the current problem in North Ayrshire, which is a good—if that is the right word—example of the scale of the problem that we are discussing. North Ayrshire Council wants to build a massive superschool by amalgamating St Andrew's Academy in Saltcoats and St Michael's Academy in Kilwinning. That would mean that Laighdykes playing fields—which are the only playing fields that serve the communities of Saltcoats and Ardrossan—would be built on. Murray Tosh referred to how PPP projects are structured and how they create an affordability gap. The affordability gap that North Ayrshire Council will face if it goes ahead with what has been proposed will require it to sell off the site of St Michael's Academy, including the sports playing fields in Kilwinning. That means that the huge school would be moved to Saltcoats and there would be no playing fields, which would be absolutely no use to the local community.

Saltcoats and Ardrossan have a population of 23,000 and therefore they should have 138 acres of playing fields. However, they have 36 acres. If North Ayrshire Council goes ahead with the proposals, they will have 24 acres, which is completely unacceptable. Playing fields must be built or expanded, not decreased.

Over the years, the Laighdykes playing fields have helped to develop the footballing talents of Bobby Lennox, who played for Celtic when that team won the European cup in 1967; Roy Aitken, who captained Celtic and Scotland; Stevie Clarke, who played for Chelsea and Scotland; Ray Montgomery, who captained Kilmarnock to the Scottish cup; and, back in the 1960s, Bobby Ferguson who played for Kilmarnock, West Ham and Scotland and came from my home town of Ardrossan. Their talents were formed on Laighdykes playing fields. If North Ayrshire Council gets its way, very few young boys will be able to develop their talents on those fields. The Scottish Football Association youth development programme asks on a flyer: "Where will the next Darren Fletcher come from?" If North Ayrshire Council gets its way, it will not be from Saltcoats or Ardrossan.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 6:05 pm, 1st June 2005

Once the playing fields in our cities have gone, they have gone for ever—there is no way of getting them back once they have been built on. We are facing a crisis in our cities and towns. Judging from what Adam Ingram said, PAN 65 and NPPG 11 are dead ducks—they are ineffective. What is now required for our local authorities, planners and developers is not planning advice; they require regulation of the kind Dennis Canavan mentioned. He spoke of the National Playing Fields Association's idea of setting aside 6 acres per 1,000 people for outdoor playing space, with 4 acres for formal sports and 2 acres for children's play.

I disagree slightly with what Dennis Canavan said, however. The importance of children's play is still undervalued across the board in the debate. It is not just about organised sports pitches; it is about the opportunity for free play in areas where the footballers, hockey players and tennis players of the future can develop by having a piece of land where they can go and knock about a ball without having to pay money or apply for permission to use that land. In that context, Pauline McNeill and Michael Matheson made some powerful points. There is no opportunity to kick a ball about in the street nowadays—there is far too much traffic.

Rosemary Byrne talked about the gain in self-confidence and social development that comes from having open spaces available for young people to use. That is very important.

Murray Tosh spoke about taxation. Of course, a form of land value taxation that subsidised community spaces could be considered, even in parallel with council tax if the Executive will not get rid of council tax, which would please many people.

In Edinburgh, we have lost land at Peffermill, Jock's Lodge, Holyrood, Hawkhill, Ferryfield, Gypsy Brae, Crewe Toll, Muirhouse, Ravelston Dykes, Meggetland, Canal Field, Gray's Loan, Craighouse, Double Hedges, Colinton Mains, Gyle and Turnhouse, to mention but a few places. That is a devastatingly depressing list of communities that have been robbed of facilities that they have enjoyed for many years. What happened at Meggetland is a prime example of the way in which local authorities and planners have got round things. Over the weekends, Meggetland was home to literally hundreds of young people flying kites and playing games of football, here and there, with piles of shirts for goalposts. That has been replaced by manicured grass and all-weather pitches that people have to pay to use. The massive informal use of that space has gone, probably for ever. It cannot be returned, yet that space was of great value to the community.

We cannot allow that process to continue in our cities. The Executive has a clear duty to arrest what appears to be almost a pell-mell reduction of real play space for communities—for children, their parents and their friends. I appeal to the Executive to respond positively to all the speeches that have been made this evening, as this is a serious issue. There could be irreversible effects if we do not arrest very soon the progressive loss of amenity spaces in our cities.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 6:09 pm, 1st June 2005

I join members in congratulating Mike Watson on securing this debate on an issue that continues to stimulate a great deal of interest among members. When he lodged his motion, Mike Watson may not have realised that the issue is dear to my heart, because one of my first constituency duties when elected to the Parliament was to appear before a reporter's inquiry concerning the proposed loss of some playing fields connected to a school in my constituency.

I make clear from the outset that the Executive is fully committed to the protection and enhancement of the land that is required for Scotland's sport and physical recreation. We are equally committed to improving the health and well-being of the nation, especially of young people. Members have raised a number of issues and I suspect that I will not have the time or opportunity to cover all of them. However, I have listened carefully to what has been said, especially in relation to issues that may come before ministers as planning matters. It would be impossible—and, possibly, illegal—for me to comment specifically on those issues, but I have listened carefully to the points that have been made. Dennis Canavan said that he wants to meet me to discuss the generality of the issue about which he is concerned. I would be happy to do that.

The Executive has invested significant funds in the active schools programme, which has been embraced by all 32 local authorities. We are working towards implementing our commitment to provide more time for physical activity—not just PE—and more PE teachers. It is essential that, as a nation, we become more active. However, we must remember that many of the activities in which we encourage young people, in particular, to take part do not require specialist facilities.

The motion refers to the continuing diminution in the number of sports pitches and open spaces across Scotland. Mike Watson was right to say that, since NPPG 11 was published in June 1996, there has been a net loss of 112 pitches. However, since the start of 2004 there has been a net gain of four pitches. It should be recognised that many of the pitches that were lost were old mineral pitches that are deemed unsuitable for modern-day use. In their place are synthetic pitches, sevens pitches and multi-use games areas that can be played on at all times and in any weather.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I welcome the advent of newer technology and newer surfaces. The old ash pitches may have given people skinnt knees, but at least they could use them for a kick-about at any point. Well-maintained ash pitches had gamekeepers—[ Interruption. ] I meant to say park keepers, although some of them needed gamekeepers. Parkies were able to control playing areas and to keep up standards. I would like the minister to comment on those two issues.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I will address Margo MacDonald's point shortly.

Although there has been a net loss in pitches, there has been a marked increase in the quality of playing fields, which can often sustain a significantly higher level of usage.

As I said earlier, the Executive is committed to the protection of playing fields and open spaces and to their improvement. The planning system performs two key functions in relation to open spaces. It protects areas that are valuable and valued, and it ensures the provision of appropriate quality in or within easy reach of new development. Members recognised that primary responsibility for the issue lies with local authorities. The Executive's role is to provide the legislative framework, plus guidance and advice to local authorities on how to fulfil our commitment.

"NPPG 11—Sport, Physical Recreation and Open Space" aims to safeguard playing fields and sports pitches by discouraging development where that is likely to conflict with local needs either now or in the future. Adam Ingram referred to PAN 65, which, as he knows, was published in 2003 and sets out the Executive's advice on the role of the planning system in delivering high-quality open space. The note specifies a method for local authorities to adopt and adapt when preparing open space strategies. It also gives examples of good practice in providing, managing and maintaining the open space resource. Crucially, it encourages partnership between local authority departments with open space responsibilities and the active participation of local communities, amenity bodies and developers in achieving quality open space.

I hope that members are aware that, as I have outlined, measures already exist to protect playing fields. When proposed development would affect such fields, sportscotland has the right as a statutory consultee to object formally to that development. Cases in which its objection is maintained must be notified to ministers, to give them the opportunity to decide whether to call in an application for their own determination or to allow the planning authority to determine the application itself.

Between January 2000 and this April, 11 such cases have been notified and two planning applications that affect playing fields have been called in. Although that figure might appear low, that is simply because sportscotland is prepared to enter into negotiations about the provision of alternative sports pitches for the area. When that aim is achieved to sportscotland's satisfaction, it will often withdraw its objection and thereby remove the need for the planning authority to notify the case to ministers.

Members raised the issue of private clubs. Obviously, the Scottish Executive cannot intervene on such matters, but one condition of tax relief is that clubs must not limit their membership in the way that Dennis Canavan indicated. If they do, they can lose relief. Moreover, if sportscotland has invested in those clubs, it can seek to recover its investment at that stage.

Our partnership agreement states that the Executive will review planning guidance to set strong minimum standards for including public open space in new developments. We commissioned research on minimum standards for open space and have recently received the final report. That research will be published shortly and will feed into the revision of planning policy on open space later this year.

I should point out that amendments to national planning policy do not need to be set out in primary legislation such as the proposed planning bill. Furthermore, we have started a review of NPPG 11 to examine the framework around which local authorities consider planning applications that impact on playing field provision. In that respect, we will certainly examine Mike Watson's point about the minimum size at which that NPPG kicks in. Indeed, in discussing the issue, we will perhaps consider reductions in that minimum size.

As Margo MacDonald pointed out, the management, maintenance and promotion of facilities are all equally important. Local authorities have been encouraged to produce sports development plans, a key aspect of which is a strategy to maximise use and impact. Although we can support and sustain the development of facilities, we need drive at the local level to ensure that facilities are used imaginatively and wisely and provide a wide range of opportunities to the immediate community and beyond.

I am very aware of the time, Presiding Officer, but I will say that, following the recent completion of a study that was commissioned by sportscotland, the Scottish Arts Council and the Executive on the impact of management regimes on the use of the school sports and cultural facilities, sportscotland and the SAC will shortly issue guidance for local authorities on a range of issues connected with improving local communities' access to school facilities.

I realise that I am overstepping my time, but I want to thank members, particularly Mike Watson, for bringing this important issue to our attention. As I have said, it is very close to my heart. I hope that our review of the existing rules and guidance on this matter will strengthen them to the benefit of all our communities.

Meeting closed at 18:18.