Precious playing fields are protected

New data shows playing fields across the country are being protected against development

06 December 2016 Facilities

Our latest figures show that 91 per cent of all resolved planning applications that involved a playing field in 2014/15 resulted in improved or secured facilities.

Download the latest figures

One of our roles as the government body responsible for grassroots sport is to object to developments on playing fields if the provision of sport and activity will be negatively affected.

We will often negotiate a new facility being built or existing pitches being upgraded so that people are able to get active in their local area.

This year's numbers match the previous year, in which 92 per cent of planning applications affecting playing fields (1,176 out of 1,272) resulted in improved or protected sport facilities.

Headline statistics

  • 91 per cent (1139 out of 1254) of concluded planning applications affecting playing fields resulted in improved or safeguarded sports provision
  • In 43 per cent of the cases where we originally objected to an application, our intervention and further negotiation led to an overall improvement in sports provision
  • The rest (57 per cent) were either withdrawn, refused by the local authority or are yet to be determined
  • Despite our objections during the planning process, 115 applications (9 per cent) were approved by local planning authorities.

Charles Johnston, Sport England property director, says: “Playing fields are a vital part of grassroots sport as they are often the place where people have their first experience of getting active.

“We take our statutory role in this process very seriously, which is why I’m pleased the latest figures show that the safeguards we have in place are working and are allowing people to continue enjoying sport.

Playing fields are a vital part of grassroots sport as they are often the place where people have their first experience of getting active

Charles Johnston, director of property, Sport England

"Local authorities are under considerable pressure when it comes to planning, including the need to provide more housing locally.

"What these figures show is that by thinking creatively and working with Sport England, sports provision can be protected at the same time as much needed development takes place."

Case studies

Arborfield Garrison, Wokingham

When the Ministry of Defence decided to leave Arborfield Garrison, proposals were made to create a new community on the site, including thousands of modern homes and two schools. The land already included a sports hall and playing fields.

We worked with the developer and council to protect and enhance sports provision in the new development. This included:

  • Large playing fields
  • Full-sized floodlit artificial pitch
  • New sports hall at the new secondary school.

The existing tennis courts got floodlights and the cricket pitch was retained with improvements to the pavilion. The primary school also got an artificial pitch and games area, all with community access. The council also included conditions on the planning application which means that all facilities will be built to Sport England’s latest design standards.

£489k investment into sport in Prudhoe

Prudhoe Hospital, near Newcastle Upon Tyne

The Prudhoe Hospital site had a playing field with two football pitches and a cricket wicket. When it closed in 2012 and plans were submitted to turn the area into new housing, all the sports facilities were at risk of being lost forever.

We originally objected to the application while potential replacement provision was investigated.

When a replacement site was identified at the former Eastwood County Middle School, a section 106 agreement (a legally-binding requirement for the developer to fund community facilities) was made, securing £489,000 investment into sport.

The money is funding the creation of the new, well-drained pitches, as well as car parking for players and spectators and improvements to an existing pavilion.

Support for groups and clubs

Following on from today’s news, we have produced guidance for clubs and community groups to take action if they feel their playing fields or local facilities are at risk of being sold off for development, mothballed or closed.

Our Community Rights for Sport Guidance helps clubs and other local groups to protect their pitches, pavilions, bowls clubs and swimming pools by listing them as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). 

By listing them as an Asset of Community Value, organisations can help safeguard them by giving the local community the right to bid for them at a later date.

Pub group CAMRA has successfully protected more than 1600 watering holes across the country using ACVs – while sports clubs have managed around 400.

There is no obligation to take over the management of a sports facility if it is listed as an ACV. But our guidance will help clubs and other community groups to protect it from being lost for good without the people that live nearby having a say.

  • We have created an online tool to walk interested groups through the ACV, Right to Bid and Community Asset Transfer process step-by-step
  • For further help and advice please contact us via acv@sportengland.org.