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Land sell-off puts sports pitches at risk

The Scottish Sports Council has lodged an objection to the proposed housing development at Hawkhill playing-fields in Edinburgh that is blocking the development of sports facilities at Leith Academy.

Lothian Region decided to dispose of the 10-acre site at Hawkhill in 1994 in a package that would include a Pounds 1.73 million redevelopment of Leith Academy. But the sports council claims that the development will lead to a net loss of two rugby pitches, a cricket wicket and a practice area.

Local authorities are now advised to consult the council since a new national planning policy guideline came into force last June.

The National Playing Fields Association nevertheless remains concerned that there is no accurate estimate of the number of playing-fields in Scotland.

John Tunnah, the association's secretary in Scotland, estimates that the equivalent of an A4 sheet of paper is lost every two minutes or, in other words, a football pitch is lost every 20 days.

"There has been a register in England since 1991-92 but we were always told there wasn't a problem in Scotland," Mr Tunnah said. "But if you do not have a register of playing-fields, then how do you know how many you are losing. Our problem has been that we do not hear about projects until the eleventh hour. It is good that the Scottish Sports Council has become a statutory consultee but I think it would also be a good idea if there was an independent consultee. "

Mr Tunnah is concerned at the decision to limit the council's involvement to areas of more than 0.4 hectares, pointing out that the Scottish Football Association's requirement for Soccer Sevens pitches for under-11s is 70 metres by 50 metres.

However, a spokesman for the council said: "The pieces of land below 0. 4 hectares tend to be the likes of football pitches at primary schools and they are pretty well protected."

Elsa Davies, NPFA director for the United Kingdom, said: "I am not sure the nation takes the problem seriously enough. There are just not sufficient safeguards on recreational resources."

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