HC Deb 22 June 1989 vol 155 cc478-9
3. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many playing fields have been sold for development in the past five years; what was the comparable figure in 1974; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

Comprehensive records of playing fields in Northern Ireland are not held centrally. Of those grant-aided by the Department of Education, four were sold for development in the past five years. None was sold in 1974.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. Friend confirm that on principle the Conservative Government will make it a priority not to allow development on school or other playing fields or green spaces? Will he contrast that with the behaviour of Labour-controlled Ealing council, which is promoting a building on the Cayton road playing field in my constituency?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a bit wide.

Mr. Cryer

It is very wide. It is an abuse of Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Greenway

Should not those playing fields be saved for children and for environmental reasons?

Dr. Mawhinney

I know that my hon. Friend robustly defends his constituents' interests. I assure him that we consider every possible opportunity to retain playing fields. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that in the same five years nine major playing field complexes were transferred at no cost to Belfast city council and one to Newtownabbey council.

Mr. McNamara

I am sure that we all approve of the Minister's last statement, but will he confirm that the Government have a ratio for the number of playing fields appropriate to the numbers of pupils in a school and that any surplus land has to be sold off for development and that that is the rule in this country? Perhaps the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) should find out what the Ministry of Education and Science is doing.

Dr. Mawhinney

I am not aware of any ratio. From time to time, due to the decrease in school numbers, land becomes available—[Interruption.] It is not a ratio. We try to retain that land in the public sector for public use where there is demand or need, but occasionally land is sold off for development.

Mr. Peter Robinson

When land was transferred free of charge to Belfast and to Newtownabbey councils, why were the former playing fields used by the Stranmillis college not transferred to Castlereagh council free of charge?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman, who is a member of that council, knows the answer full well.