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NEW PLAYING FIELD SELL-OFF RULES ATTACKED

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New rules published by the government yesterday on the disposal of school playing fields were immediately criticise...
New rules published by the government yesterday on the disposal of school playing fields were immediately criticised by campaigners, according to The Daily Telegraph (p9).

The National Playing Fields Association said the new criteria fell far short of the strong action needed to stop the land being sold off or used for building.

Last October the government made it compulsory for schools and councils to refer disposals to the education secretary, but none so far has been refused, according to the NPFA's director, Elsa Davies.

Charles Clarke, the schools minister, said the government had put 'a virtual halt to the sell-off'. Before 1997, sports bodies said there were 40 disposals a month.

'Now we are receiving just a dozen applications a month - and they are often leading to new sports facilities or result from school closures.'

The new rules lay down criteria that local authority and governing body plans would have to meet before they could be submitted to the education secretary.

These are that proceeds from the sale are ploughed back into sports provision or education; that remaining playing fields and sports facilities meet the needs of local schools and the community; and that the views of local people have been fully taken into account.

Playing fields owned by local authorities and used by educational institutions are protected by tighter planning controls brought in last December. They require councils to notify Sport England and, where it objects, the plans must be referred to the environment secretary.

However, Mrs Davies said that more needed to be done to save fields when schools closed, especially when they were used by pupils of nearby schools or local people.

The vacant site of a former grammar school in Sherborne, Dorset, will provide the first test of the government's intentions for the future of the country's playing fields, the Telegraph says.

The DfEE has said it will decide before the end of month whether to allow Dorset CC to sell Foster's Field for housing.

The district council has twice rejected the application to sell, only for the county to win its case on appeal to John Prescott, the secretary of the environment.

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