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An agency pitches in

New guidance attempts to stem the loss of school playing fields

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY schools were this week issued with detailed guidance for the first time on the planning and design of school playing fields.

Advice from sportscotland development agency was prompted by the steady encroachment on school and community pitches as a result of investment in new buildings through public private partnerships.

Since 1996, 118 sports pitches have been lost. In addition, a survey of pitches in 2002-03, which included 630 at schools, found that more than 80 per cent fell below desirable standards.

The guidance is also the result of the Scottish Executive's physical activity strategy which envisages that 80 per cent of young people should do at least an hour of "moderate" physical activity on most days of the week. This is in addition to two hours of timetabled PE.

"We believe it is essential that new and refurbished schools are provided with sufficient, well-constructed and well-maintained playing fields.

Sporting opportunity and the fitness of future generations could depend on it," said Julia Bracewell, chair of sportscotland.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, welcomed the document but said he was not so much concerned about the reduction in the number of pitches as the fact that, in many councils, "there are too many of some types, lots of poorly maintained and often unplayable ones and insufficient ones of other types".

The main improvements sought by the agency are synthetic grass surfaces and improvements in existing natural grass pitches. While the playing capacity of synthetic pitches is unlimited, sport-scotland calculates that grass pitches should be used no more than eight hours a week.

Based on some 18 assumptions, including the number of PE lessons and school rolls, the guidance calculates that a secondary school of 1,200 pupils would require one synthetic pitch and four grass pitches to cope with wear and tear.

On a similar basis, a single-stream primary should have one synthetic pitch (or one grass), a two-stream school one synthetic or two grass, and a three-stream one of each or three grass.

The guidance also sets out technical advice: playing field dimensions, layout, design and maintenance which depend on the mix of sports and physical activities taking place.

The guidance acknowledges that PPP projects have brought improvements to sports facilities, but they have also led to playing fields being used to rebuild schools or being disposed of to raise capital to pay for projects.

The Government's planning guidelines stipulate that playing fields should not be redeveloped unless they are shown to be surplus to requirements or are replaced with space of the same size and quality.

Sportscotland is allowed to object to planning applications affecting playing fields, but accepts "responsibility of local authorities to determine their requirements in the light of local circumstances".

Mr Stodter said initiatives were leading to better quality pitches replacing inefficient ones. But he added: "There is still a problem with the funding and management of new state-of-the-art facilities - they cost a lot of money."

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