PPP schools run into trouble over threat to sports pitches

29th July 2005 at 01:00
Two authorities have come under fire in the past week over concerns that plans for new schools built under public private partnership (PPP) finance schemes will cut back on sports facilities, Elizabeth Buie writes.

Figures from sportscotland, the national agency for sport, show that there has been an overall net loss in pitches of 112 from June 1996 to March this year.

East Dunbartonshire and North Ayrshire have both been criticised recently over potential cutbacks to playing-fields.

However, statistics from sportscotland suggest there is little evidence of a significant loss overall. Officials say the loss of 112 pitches over the past decade represents fewer than 2 per cent of the Scottish total.

While 178 blaes or ash pitches and 56 grass pitches have been lost, 122 synthetic turf pitches have come into use and are more suitable for modern needs.

Sportscotland said: "Investment in the upgrading of existing pitches and the provision of new pitches is improving the quality of facilities for pitch sports and increasing their playing capacity."

East Dunbartonshire's plans to rebuild Douglas Academy in Milngavie on the site of its playing-fields would mean the loss of the school's swimming pool, athletics facilities and at least two of five outdoor pitches. The council proposes to sell off an area of the grounds where tennis courts are situated to make way for about 25 homes.

Sportscotland has lodged an initial objection to the Douglas Academy outline proposals - pending the authority's overall playing-fields strategy being published - because the council has so far failed to demonstrate how it plans to replace the lost playing-fields.

A spokesperson said: "East Dunbartonshire is currently in the process of finalising its playing-field strategy, and unless it can provide clear evidence that there is an oversupply of pitches in the area, there will be a presumption against development and any pitch losses should be compensated by replacement or upgraded provision."

Sportscotland has also objected to the council's proposed housing developments because it believes the plan will reduce the overall campus area and may hit wider sports provision at the school.

A council spokeswoman said, however: "A representative of sportscotland sits on the council's steering group which is looking at formulating a sports pitch strategy for the whole area. Until that strategy is agreed and signed, sportscotland have lodged a holding statement in regard to the planning application."

She added: "The sporting facilities at the new school have been discussed at length with the headteacher, school board and principal teacher of PE.

The quantity and quality of the new indoor PE provision exceeds those that exist at present, and the focus for outdoor pitch provision is on quality not quantity.

"The council is proposing to provide a minimum of one all-weather, multi-surface pitch at Douglas Academy in addition to traditional grass pitches that will accommodate a range of sports. Although there are currently more pitches at the school, they are frequently unplayable in the winter and sports experts agree that there are serious health and safety issues related to sporting activity on outmoded blaes surfaces."

It had been made clear from the beginning that there would be no provision for swimming facilities, the spokeswoman said. This decision was based on the prohibitive costs involved in maintaining swimming pools over the 30-year period of the PPP contract.

Sportscotland has also expressed concern about outline plans from North Ayrshire for a new school at Laighdykes which would also be built on existing playing-fields.

Stewart Cargill, senior planner in sportscotland's facilities development division, said that Fife had included natural grass and synthetic grass provision in its PPP schools, while the proposals being put forward by North Lanarkshire were also good.

Some of the earliest PPP schemes had not properly appreciated the importance of playing-fields to schools. Other issues which were only picked up once the first tranche of PPP schools were up and running included the need for community access to facilities out of school hours and the level of charges.

"Local authorities are now much more aware of these issues," Mr Cargill said.

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