HC Deb 04 December 2001 vol 376 cc255-6W
Mr. Hawkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment she has made of the accuracy of the estimate previously supplied by her Department that 40 school playing fields per month were sold during the period 1979 to 1997; what recent representations she has received expressing concern over the(a) use and (b) accuracy of these estimated figures; and if she will make a statement. [19836]

John Healey

[holding answer 30 November 2001]: Public concern about the loss of school playing fields led directly to the introduction in October 1998 of section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Prior to October 1998, the Government had no means of knowing precisely how many school playing fields were being sold. Before section 77 was introduced, only grant-maintained schools were required to seek consent from the Secretary of State before selling land, including areas of their playing fields. Local authorities and other schools that owned their own playing fields were free to sell without restriction.

Our best estimate is that an average of 40 playing fields a month were sold in this way before October 1998. This estimate is based on the number of playing field disposals at grant-maintained schools between April 1996, when the then Conservative Government further encouraged the disposal of playing fields by relaxing the Local Authority Capital Finance Regulations which governed the use of sale proceeds, and 1 October 1998, when section 77 took effect. During this 30-month period, some 64 grant-maintained schools were given approval to dispose of areas of playing field, which is an average of over two a month. Using the proportion of grant-maintained schools at that time compared with the number of other schools, we estimate the total number of playing field disposals each month to have been around 40.

Only the Central Council of Physical Recreation has expressed any concern about these figures. Officials in this Department responded to the Council's concerns in September 2001. There have been no further representations.

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