‘Be on your guard or lose playing fields’

Charity London Playing Fields Foundation has launched a register of at-risk fields warning: "Once lost, a playing field isn’t coming back."

At least eight fields around the capital are thought to be in most danger, though the charity says there could be many more and is calling on residents to speak out about facilities near them.

The foundation’s chief executive Alex Welsh said proposed changes to planning laws and cuts to council budgets mean sports fields are in danger of being sold off or falling into disuse because maintenance costs are too high.

He said falling numbers of outdoor pitches meant fewer young people were getting the opportunity to play sport which could have a damaging effect on public health.

Mr Welsh said: "If we want current and future generations to lead more active lives we have to be vigilant.

"Next time you’re queuing up at your local supermarket just think 20 years ago you might have been standing on a cricket square or centre circle.

"Our register is not ideal as it is reactive but in the absence of a continuously updated database of playing fields it’s the best we’ve got." The foundation says the stock of football and cricket pitches in the capital has plummeted in 20 years, meaning youngsters have fewer green spaces to play on than ever before.

It introduced its "at-risk register" because of a lack of information about how many playing fields have been lost in recent years.

So far it says it has helped to save 15 threatened sites, either through advice, a feasibility study or acquiring the ground with the help of funding from the London Marathon Charitable Trust. Communities are being told that the best way to protect playing fields is to use them.

A report in 2006 by the Greater London Authority revealed that hundreds of hectares of open space had been lost in the previous two decades, though since then officials say it has been difficult to quantify how much has been lost.

Murad Qureshi, chairman of the London Assembly’s environment committee, said since the report "there has certainly been a further loss of playing fields in London and many have also been mothballed".

Mr Qureshi said: "This is something we need to keep an eye on.
"The draft National Planning Policy Framework’s lack of protection for sport and recreational buildings is of deep concern and certainly won’t help this trend of the loss of playing fields in London." 

A dilapidated sports ground that has been boarded up for 10 years should be restored as an open space for the community, say campaigners.

The 12-acre Hervey Road Sports Field in Kidbrooke had been used since 1890 for sporting activities until vandalism forced its closure. Greenwich council announced plans to build a special school on the site five years ago but has dropped this proposal.

Residents say the lack of facilities on the field – which was used for football, rugby, athletics, hockey and tennis – is a missed opportunity.

Susan Proudfoot, a leading member of the Save Hervey Road Sports Field group, said: "We still don’t know the council’s intentions for the field… At the moment the grass is cut and it is tidy but it has not got a single facility on it and no markings.

"Playing fields are really important, not just for people being active but also from a community point of view.

"We feels ours is a community landmark, but once it can be restored again it will be even stronger."

The site is on the London Playing Fields Foundation’s "at risk register". A council spokesman said the field would be released for "different uses" once a decision is taken about where Willow Dene special school is to be built.

He added: "As an Olympic host borough Greenwich is fully committed to ensuring an expansion in facilities for physical activity."

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