HC Deb 19 January 1998 vol 304 cc677-9
5. Mr. McNulty

What plans he has to support the provision of school playing fields. [21445]

Mr. Banks

My right hon. Friend announced last week that the Government intend to make sure that those playing fields which schools and their local communities need are not sold or redeveloped in the future. We will take powers to ensure that no school playing field is disposed of without the consent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions proposes to require planning authorities to notify him when they are considering giving planning permission for the development of playing fields that they own and where the English Sports Council has objected. He will formally consult local authorities on these proposals shortly. This is another manifesto commitment carried out by the Labour Government.

Mr. McNulty

I thank my hon. Friend for that response, and I certainly welcomed the policy announcement last Friday.

May I draw attention to a unique site in my constituency: some 44 acres of playing fields in a suburban setting, which neither Camden—the ex-Inner London education authority borough concerned—nor any other inner-London borough requires? Many of my constituents have tried as much as they can to engage with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education and Employment, the London Playing Fields Society, the English Sports Council, the lottery people and others to ensure that a deal is put together as swiftly as possible to get that 44 acre site back into use by the community and by schools. Will my hon. Friend use his best endeavours and the offices of his Department to ensure that that happens sooner rather than later, so that my constituents may enjoy this unique facility?

Mr. Banks

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work to safeguard the Prince Edward playing field. I know that Camden borough council is considering transferring the site to the London Playing Fields Society. I have alerted my colleagues who are responsible for the environment and education to the plight of the playing field. I expect Camden to move swiftly, and I will certainly make available whatever good offices I can to those involved in ensuring that the playing field remains for the use of the local community. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to keep up the pressure.

Mr. Gray

The Minister will be aware that 500 boys and girls play football and rugby every Saturday in Chippenham in my constituency. Doubtless he will also be aware that at present there is only one playing field facility in Chippenham. Will he take the initiative that he announced last Friday one stage further and encourage local authorities—in this case, North Wiltshire district council—to set aside land and funds for the extra provision of playing fields where those are inadequate?

Mr. Banks

Despite the enormous amount of information that I try to keep in my head, I was not aware that so many people played football in Chippenham in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I would most certainly be prepared to support anything that can be done to enhance the facilities available to young people there.

Mr. Reed

I welcome the statement about playing fields, but that is only one part of the equation, as I am sure the Minister would agree. I have visited 36 schools in Loughborough since the election and have been worried by the amount of sport played by young children. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the work of organisations such as the Youth Sports Trust, of which he knows, and the Tops programme will play a vital role in the future of sport. Does he agree that we want more money and initiatives going into that? That will ensure that Loughborough university plays a leading role in the United Kingdom Sports Institute, which I am sure he will accept is very important.

Mr. Banks

I commend all those unbitter individuals who are raising questions surrounding the decision on the UK Sports Institute. Everyone has taken it in a sporting way. There is something in this for everyone; that specifically includes Loughborough, which is one of the great sporting centres of excellence in this country. Yes, the Youth Sports Trust and Tops—schemes which this Government very much encourage and which are also supported by the English Sports Council—are initiatives that I would want to be extended. I can assure my hon. Friend that as long as I hold a grip on this ministerial position I will continue to argue for more funds for those causes.