Playing fields in the West Midlands are being protected against development, new data published has shown. The latest figures, compiled by Sport England, which works to safeguard playing fields for community use, show that 92 per cent of all resolved planning applications in the West Midlands involving a playing field in 2013/14 resulted in improved or secured facilities.

Sport England must be consulted by councils whenever anyone wants to develop on a playing field, and will always object if it believes that sports provision in the area will be negatively impacted as a result. Often, Sport England will negotiate a new facility being built or existing pitches being upgraded, resulting in improved spaces for people to play sport locally.

The figures show that in 2013/14:

  • 92 per cent (142 out of 115) of concluded planning applications affecting playing fields resulted in improved or safeguarded sports provision;
  • Nationally, in half (51 per cent) of the cases where Sport England originally objected to an application, our intervention and further negotiation led to an overall improvement in sports provision;
  • The rest (49 per cent) were either withdrawn, refused by the local authority, are yet to be determined, or were approved despite Sport England objections (just 7.5 per cent).

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

‘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.’

Examples of West Midlands playing field success stories include:

  • Sport England stepped in after developers bought a large area of playing fields with a view to building houses in East Staffordshire – despite there being a shortage of sports provision in the area. Negotiations with the local council and developers meant a section of the land was kept as playing fields, as well as other new facilities being provided nearby.

New help for groups wanting to take over their sports facilities

Whilst the latest figures relate to the use of playing fields, rather than sale of them, there is still concern that facilities owned by councils and businesses, but used by clubs, are at risk of being sold off.

It has led Sport England to publish, today, new advice and guidance to support clubs and community group that believe their playing field or local facilities are at risk of being sold off for development, mothballed or closed, to take action.

The new 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), 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 950 watering holes across the country using ACVs – while sports clubs have only managed a few hundred.

Sport England has also created an online tool to walk interested groups through the ACV, Right To Bid and Community Asset Transfer process step-by-step.

There is no obligation to take over the management of a sports facility if it is listed as an ACV. But Sport England’s 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.

People that need help can contact Sport England via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Communities minister Marcus Jones MP said: ‘Community rights have put power into local people’s hands and have been amazingly successful with over 3,000 uses so far.

‘This new guidance is a fantastic tool to help sport and recreation clubs have their say on the future of their precious pitches.

‘I’d encourage all those interested to take a look and see if these new measures could help them get an easy win.’

Councillor Ian Stephens, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport board, said: ‘Councillors always balance the needs of everyone in their communities and take careful consideration of all the factors when deciding upon the future of playing fields, while recognising their importance for local sports and physical activity.

‘Councils are one of the biggest supporters of grassroots sport and will continue to work closely with Sport England and local partners to ensure the best outcomes for all concerned.’

Brian Whaley, Sport England lead on planning, said: ‘This new guidance is a really helpful and easy-to-use tool for any clubs and community groups that might have concerns about the future of their sports facilities.

‘As well as looking at the guidance, we recommend in the first instance you contact your Local Authority and ask for an ACV registration form which should be straight forward to fill in.  If you encounter a problem or need help please get in touch with us and we will try and help.’

Wigston United FC successfully used an ACV to help safeguard a club.

The club registered the site they play at as an ACV, which has given it a say in the bidding process after the football pitches it uses to play was put up for sale.

At the moment, more than 200 youngsters from around nine-years-old to 18-years-old use the community sports pitches during the week and at weekends.

But if the land is sold to another organisation, the club says it will have to finish because there is nowhere else for it to play.

It has already secured a grant and is currently fundraising to find the rest of the cash in an attempt to buy the site.

As an ACV, the landowner must take its bid into consideration if they want to sell.