HC Deb 18 December 1995 vol 268 cc1208-9
4. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what assessment she has made of the provision of playing fields and similar sports facilities in north-west London; and what policy guidance is given by her Department when local authorities seek to sell such areas. [4635]

The Minister of State, Department of National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)

The provision of playing fields and sports facilities in north-west London is a matter for the relevant local authorities to consider, seeking expert advice from bodies such as the Sports Council. The Government's planning policy guidance note No. 17 outlines the factors that local authorities should consider before allowing playing fields to be redeveloped.

Mr. Dykes

My hon. Friend the Minister monitors carefully what is happening to playing fields up and down the country, and I thank him for the work that he has done to ensure that quite a few of them remain in public sector hands. Bearing in mind the fact that the Labour party's official policy document advocates, similarly, that the ownership of playing fields should remain in public hands, is it not preposterous that incompetent Camden council, which has a Labour majority and is one of the worst local authorities in Greater London, is now proposing to dispose of at least two out of its three principal playing fields? Will my hon. Friend make sure that that example of double-standard cynicism is withstood and will he monitor closely what happens if the council foolishly tries to raise excess funds from the sale of those playing fields to outside commercial interests instead of keeping them for the local community?

Mr. Sproat

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words, and for drawing that matter to my attention in our previous discussions about the important issue of the Prince Edward playing fields. I hope that Camden will continue to allow those playing fields to remain in existence, because it is an important part of our sports policy that as many playing fields as possible remain open to public access.

Ms Glenda Jackson

Is the Minister aware that Camden council, far from being incompetent, is constantly praised by the Department of the Environment, no less, and is constantly receiving charter marks and recommendations for the excellence of its service? May I further point out that Camden has no plans to sell its playing fields. In fact, it is consulting a range of interested parties, including sports associations and local communities, about them. There is little point in any local authority attempting to maintain its sports facilities, however, if the Government consistently underfund any kind of youth provision. Will the Minister therefore speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about whether there can be a positive change in the Government's approach?

Mr. Sproat

I am glad to hear about Camden council's catalogue of virtues. I hope that they will include making absolutely certain that those playing fields are not sold for development but remain for people to play sport on.