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The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 148, I shall speak also to the other government amendments in the group. Schedule 17 is intended to ensure that publicly funded land no longer required for a foundation school remains available for alternative educational use. A governing body or foundation body wishing to dispose of land must seek the consent of the Secretary of State or the Assembly.
Schedule 17 closes the loophole that currently arises where land is transferred from the governing body of a foundation school to its trustees, who would not be caught by the prohibition on disposal. The subsequent amendments in the group are necessary to ensure that the legislation takes full account of all the circumstances in which trustees may acquire land for foundation schools. Our intention is to provide adequate protection for all former local authority land held by trustees. In order to do this, the legislation must set out clearly all the circumstances in which they might acquire the land.
As it stands, new paragraph 2A of Schedule 22 to the 1998 Act, which is inserted by Schedule 17, would not impose restrictions on the subsequent disposal of land by foundation school trustees who acquired it as a result of such a direction. The effect of Amendments Nos. 148 to 151 is to capture land transferred to trustees in the circumstances I have described within the definition of land which may not be disposed of without the consent of the Secretary of State or the Assembly.
The effect of Amendment No. 152 is different. It enables the Secretary of State or the Assembly to direct that where trustees hold land on trust for a foundation school which is discontinued, the same body of trustees may continue to hold the land for the purposes of a different school. This further amendment is intended to ensure that the legislation is comprehensive in its coverage so that all publicly funded foundation school land is subject to the same restrictions on disposal. I hope that the Committee will support the amendments. I beg to move.
"( ) The trustees of a foundation school or foundation special school shall not make any disposal where land is designated or used for recreational or sports use by pupils of that school or members of that local community unless alternative provision has been acquired."
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 150ZA would effectively forbid the trustees of a foundation school or foundation special school disposing of land used by either the pupils of the relevant school or members of the local community for recreational or sporting purposes unless alternative provision has been acquired.
Recreational space is a vital part of every community, especially the land offered by schools. But despite its importance, an average of one playing field every day comes under threat from building development. There is no statutory protection for our playing fields, so the country's irreplaceable recreational heritage and future sporting facilities are constantly at risk.
Statistics produced by the DfES for October 1998 to December 2002 show that the number of applications received for playing field disposals where the area is larger than a sports pitch was 168. Of those, 118 were approved, 19 were withdrawn and only two were rejected. The number of applications received for playing field disposals where the area is smaller than a sports pitch was 102, of which 84 were approved, 10 were withdrawn and four were rejected. Therefore the overall picture during the period was 202 approvals and only six rejections.
We are aware of the then Education Secretary's move, announced last summer, in strengthening guidance on school playing fields disposals that would require town halls which wanted to sell off fields having to show that they had no other means of raising the cash. They would also have to reinvest any proceeds from the sales in new outdoor facilities "wherever possible", such as floodlighting or new drainage systems for remaining sports pitches.
Furthermore, the Government's new position on protecting playing fields applies only to proposals which are for disposals of land capable of being used as a sports pitch of at least 1.2 hectares, or half an acre. The new requirements relating to the use of proceeds will not apply to disposals of smaller parcels of land. We believe the amendment is an important means of
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protecting such sporting and recreational facilities under the control of foundation schools. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: I associate these Benches with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton. We share her concerns. I shall not repeat the arguments that she has so ably laid before the Committee; I just wish to express our support.
Lord Filkin: The Government are committed to the protection of school playing fields. Since 1998 we have ensured that only school pitches that are surplus to the needs of local schools and their communities are sold and that all the money is ploughed back into improving sports or educational facilities.
Schedule 22 to the 1998 Act, which this schedule amends, provides protection for land held by the governing bodies or trustees of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools, and by foundation bodies. We are extending the protection for former local authority land held by the trustees of foundation schools. Section 77 of the 1998 Act provides further protection for school playing fields in particular, including land owned by local authorities and governing bodies and foundation bodies. The legislation protects school playgrounds and recreation areas as well as whole sports fields.
Local authorities and schools wishing to dispose of playing fields must satisfy rigorous criteria before their applications can be approved. These are set out in the department's guidance, which makes clear that disposal of playing fields will be allowed only if the sports and curriculum needs of the school disposing of the land and neighbouring schools continue to be met. Community usage of the school playing fields is also a consideration in decisions.
With reference to the substance of the amendment, it is the Secretary of State's policy that any sale proceeds must be reinvested first in outdoor sports facilities where possible; or, if not, in indoor sport or education facilities. This means that where school playing fields are disposed of there is no diminution in the standard of recreational facilities available to schools and local communities.
These measures demonstrate our commitment to protection. We have set out rigorous criteria which those wishing to dispose of land must satisfy. We have put in place an independent panel of experts and we insist that any proceeds must normally be ploughed back into alternative sports provision.
There might be circumstances where local authorities or schools wishing to dispose of playing fields can demonstrate that recreational provision in the area is already of a sufficiently high quality and that the proceeds of sale should be used to provide
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better education or community facilities. Where they do this, having met the criteria set out and having satisfied the Secretary of State and the independent panel, we believe that they should not be prevented from investing in such facilities. Hence I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for his detailed reply but, despite that answer, we feel that under the Government too many schools have lost too many playing fields and too many children have lost too vital a part of their education. This waste of resource and of children's talents and health must not be allowed to continue. For the moment I shall withdraw the amendment, but I am sure that we shall return to it at Report stage.
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