Playing fields 'lost at rate of one a day'

Sports fields are being sold off at the rate of one a day, according to the Central Council of Physical Recreation. The council, which represents PE teachers, says the next government should act to stop such sales.

Between September and the end of March - 212 days - 217 playing fields were referred to the English and Welsh sports councils.

Nigel Hook, head of the CCPR's technical services, said the "enormity" of the scale of proposed sales was "an indictment of Government policy". Granting consultee status to the sports councils as part of the Government's Sport: Raising the Game initiative in 1995 had failed to stop the losses, he said.

Tom Pendry, shadow sports minister, said the party would protect playing fields by scrapping current regulations that allow surplus land to be sold off and infant schools to be built with no playing field.

The Conservatives introduced this circular in 1981, reducing the minimum statutory area for school fields, and encouraged local authorities to sell surpluses. Since then around 5,000 have been sold.

Derek Casey, chief executive of the English Sports Council, said although there was a presumption against selling pitches, sometimes the money was to be re-invested in sports facilities. Of the 217 referrals, 99 have sports-related plans.

Don Earley, deputy director of the National Playing Fields Association, pointed out that sites for sale of less than an acre need not be referred to the Sports Council, and valuable play areas were being lost.

The Labour sports manifesto to be published next week is expected to pledge better PE training for primary teachers, Lottery-funded after-school clubs, and recognition (though no more pay) to teachers for extra-curricular sporting activities.

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