Prior to 2012, no protection at all existed to prevent schools putting school buildings on playing fields. Schools could build over playing fields without seeking consent and with impunity. This led to the disappearance of thousands of playing fields—Fields in Trust (formerly The National Playing Field Association) estimated 2,540 playing fields, or 26 sites a month, were lost between 1997 and 2005. This Government has introduced protections on playing fields where there were none before, so that schools and local authorities now have to seek permission if they want to change the use of public playing fields by putting school buildings on them. We now require schools to apply for consent even where the buildings are being used for education or recreational purposes.
When considering applications to place school buildings on playing fields we take into account the amount of playing field a school will be left with after the building work, whether there will be any impact on sport and play, and the reason for the proposed change.
Since February 2012, there have been 128 applications to change the use of school playing fields by putting school buildings on them. Of these: 104 applied to build classrooms and 24 applied to build other structures such as an extension to the school kitchens or the widening of a cycle path.
As the Minister responsible, I have approved 70 proposals to build classrooms, with 34 currently being considered and 18 other buildings with six currently being considered.
The vast majority of these applications seek consent to use small areas of outdoor space not used for sport, to extend school facilities in areas of severe pupil place pressure or to improve the school facilities, with no effect on the delivery of the curriculum or pupils' space to play. The average amount of playing field built on by the 88 schools given consent to do so since the new rules came into effect in February 2012 is 3.90% of their total playing field space. In every case the land is retained for educational use.