HC Deb 23 March 2000 vol 346 cc1106-7
11. Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

What his policy is on school playing fields; and if he will make a statement. [114608]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

We are determined to protect playing fields that are needed by schools and their communities. To achieve that, we introduced legislation in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 that stops local authorities in England from disposing of, or changing the use of, school playing fields without the prior consent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In June last year, we published for all to see the tough criteria against which we assess applications.

Mr. Ottaway

I am baffled. I have just heard the Minister say that she is determined to protect playing fields in our schools. Is she aware that the council has applied to sell the playing fields of Haling Manor school in Croydon and to build a housing estate on the site? Will the Secretary of State sign that off, or is it the fault of the Labour council?

Jacqui Smith

I am aware of that application, which was approved in February 1999, before the final criteria for applications were agreed and issued by my Department. To that extent, given that we have significantly toughened the criteria since we came to power, that decision has rather more relevance to the extremely lax situation that existed when the hon. Gentleman's party was in power than to the very strict criteria that are now in place.