HL Deb 30 October 2003 vol 654 cc430-2

3.17 p.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Valeasked Her Majesty's Government:

How many planning applications relating to playing fields there were between April 2001 and March 2002; and what were the outcomes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

My Lords, there were 985 planning applications relating to playing fields made between April 2001 and March 2002. Of these, 695 have been approved, 643 of them with Sport England's agreement. As a result of these applications, 450 brand-new sporting facilities, at a value of £270 million, will be built across all regions of the country. Some 161 applications have been rejected or withdrawn and 129 have yet to be decided.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that excellent news. Can he confirm that 91 percent of approved applications benefited sport or left sport unaffected, often turning fields used for 90 minutes a week by 22 men kicking a football around into all-weather pitches used up to 17 hours a day? Is he aware that in the West Midlands alone, in the year to last March, some 69 projects, worth around £39 million, have offered better sports facilities, mainly to those in deprived areas?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I can confirm my noble friend's figures because I am glad to say he has been consulting the excellent document, Planning for Play, which was produced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in July of this year. He will find that the figures he has quoted are entirely correct.

Of course, the definition of a planning application is a little odd for this purpose. I have a playing field opposite my house where there was a planning application to replace run-down huts with a brand new pavilion. If, as I think, that took a small amount of playing-field land, that is called the disposal of a playing field when it is clearly to the benefit of the school and the community.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that is all very well, but many of these applications are for school playing grounds. Can the Minister explain how the proposal of the Department for Education and Skills that children at school should play sport for two hours a week is to be realised?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the better use of playing fields, which is possible as a result of the statistics I have been given, is only part of the story. In addition to that, the New Opportunities Fund has allocated £581 million in England and £490 million in Wales to physical education and school sport, which I think was the wider subject of the noble Lord's question. Of course, that includes sports facilities which are available for community use.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, is it not the case that there is a good deal of genuine, well-intentioned misunderstanding on the whole issue of the sale of playing fields? Things have changed. Only last week we saw on our televisions Mr Iain Duncan Smith playing cricket at the new centre of excellence at Loughborough University. That is a wonderful facility—

Noble Lords


Baroness Billingham

My Lords, the question is here. Is it not the case that that facility is built on a playing field? It will appear in some statistics as the sale of a playing field, yet it is the provision of a most wonderful updated and upgraded facility. Surely, that will happen with all sports, now that sports are rightly asking for indoor facilities for 12 months of the year.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that is a very good example. The facility at Loughborough University is built on a slope between two cricket pitches and built entirely without damaging the two pitches. Of course, it is an improvement to sports facilities.

Lord Addington

My Lords, while I am glad to hear that some new sports facilities are being built, will the Minister tell us exactly where the Department of Health fits in, in making assessments about such things as preventive healthcare from the recreational use of open spaces and playing fields? If that does not take place, do the Government agree that it is certainly a hole that should be plugged very quickly?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, believes there to be only "some" new facilities. I believe that there is an enormous quantity of improved facilities for playing fields, which is the subject of the Question. In so far as the Department of Health is responsible for playing fields, that is part of the statistics that I have given. If there is any further information that I can give the noble Lord from the Department of Health, I shall try to do so.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, if all is such sweetness and light as the Minister suggests, why are the National Playing Fields Association and the Central Council for Physical Recreation so critical of what the Government are doing? They seem to be blind to how many playing fields are being lost throughout England and Wales. What consultations has the Minister had with those two bodies, given that he set up a committee to do just that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we have had continuous consultation. The Central Council for Physical Recreation has not been critical; it is true that the National Playing Fields Association has been critical, but the noble Lord will find if he inquires that it is now very much in agreement with the policies that we have adopted.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, will the Minister tell us when an announcement will be made regarding the start and anticipated completion of the Government's "Domesday Book" of sports facilities? What protection is given to stop the sale of university sports grounds within the current planning system?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is ingenious in finding questions about the future on which I have no briefing material, and I apologise to him for that. University playing fields are included in the statistics on playing fields that I have been given and which we have published. I am not aware that separate statistics have been given for them.