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Rules to curb sale of playing fields

Colleges that want to sell off playing fields will have to prove that the sale is backed by local people.

Tough new rules issued by the Learning and Skills Council insist that full consultation with all interested parties must first take place if a sale is to win approval.

Discussions must be held with all local groups or organisations who use the fields, even if only by informal agreement.

Colleges will have to keep evidence and prove to the LSC that they have local support for a sale and have considered local concerns.

The funding system has been blamed for putting pressure on colleges to sell off land to pay for new buildings.

In a draft circular on next year's capital grant support, the council said 35 per cent funding for buildings from central government should still be regarded as a maximum. Extra amounts would only be made available in "very exceptional circumstances".

John Brennan, further education development director of the Association of Colleges, said that the new guidelines on playing fields would only put extra burdens on already beleaguered colleges.

He added: "If government policy is not to allow playing fields to be sold for other purposes, then the Government has got to put in proper capital funding for development projects. It can't have it both ways."

The new LSC rules follow a planning row when Varndean College in Brighton, West Sussex, tried to sell part of its playing fields for housing to fund a proposed pound;5 million expansion.

The sixth-form college shares a campus with four schools. Its controversial plans sparked mass local opposition. Planning officers recommended refusal of the sell-off application in March this year. David Lepper, Labour MP for Brighton, called for changes to the current system which some evidence suggests, makes it easier for colleges, rather than schools, to sell playing fields.

Margaret Hodge, minister for lifelong learning and higher education, replied: "I can see the attractions of new legislation on this point, but the Government is keen to avoid and remove regulations if there is another way."

Varndean College, 38

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