Scottish councils promise to protect Olympic legacy


Scottish councils have insisted they are committed to protecting or expanding school playing fields, amid a furore in the wake of the London Olympics about the sale of such lands by dozens of schools in England.

As debate over the legacy of the 2012 Games intensifies, and with the focus in Scotland shifting towards the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow in two years, local authorities told SecEd they had no plans to sell-off school playing fields or other sporting facilities despite financial pressures.

Several intend to step up their investment over the next few years, some, including Edinburgh, by proposing sharing of facilities with the wider community, others by involving other agencies to oversee provision.

A successful showing by Team GB at the Olympics was mirrored by Scottish athletes, with Sir Chris Hoy and Andrew Murray contributing to a total of seven gold medals. A further four silvers and two bronzes made it the biggest ever haul for Scotland.

The Scottish government said it was vital to sustain the wave of interest in sports from grassroots up, including schools, but it was up to individual councils to determine policy. All councils contacted by SecEd pledged their commitment.

“The City of Edinburgh Council hasn’t bought or sold any school playing fields in recent years,” a spokeswoman said.

The council intended “creative

use of external areas to support

many parts of the curriculum, and

grounds in a managed way with the wider community will be explored”. Recent investment included £37.2 million spent on refurbishing the Royal Commonwealth Pool, which is used by school pupils and was also an Olympics 2012 training

venue. Councillor Paul Godzik,

education convener, said: “We want to ensure that our schools are assets for the whole community and we’re looking closely at how we maximise community access to schools’ sports facilities.

“Clearly, the earlier we can instil a ‘healthy living’ habit in our school children, the greater the rewards

will be for them and society as a whole, in years to come.”

Scottish Borders cited £4 million which is being spent at Peebles High, including state-of-the-art sport facilities that are due to open in 2014. “Scottish Borders has not sold-off any playing field land, and has no plans to do so,” a spokesman said. “We remain very committed to providing sports facilities for our schools.”

Last year, the council commissioned Borders Sports and Leisure Trust (BSLT) to operate most of the region’s leisure centres and swimming pools. “We have a strong partnership with them

and other groups to make sure the communities in the Borders get the most out of their sporting facilities,” he added.

It also put £500,000 into the region’s first 3G (third generation) synthetic pitch in Galashiels in partnership with BSLT, Cashback for Communities and other groups, which opened last year.

Angus said it had not sold off any playing fields in the past few years. “We are about to open a new swimming pool in Montrose, and plans are under way for enhanced sports facilities in Brechin and Forfar,” a spokesman said.

South Lanarkshire listed all the

changes to its sporting facilities over the last few years, which showed a large net gain in number of pitches and centres open to pupils and the wider community.

Stirling Council said it had no plans to change its “enhanced school playing field provision” managed under a public-private partnership.

In England, education minister Michael Gove was forced to apologise earlier this month for understating the number of school playing fields that had been sold-off in the last two years.

He originally said the tally was 21 but his department revised it upwards to 31.

At five of them he approved the sale of land despite opposition from his own advisory body, the School Playing Fields Panel.

SportScotland, the national agency for sport, assesses planning applications if they involve changes to playing field provision.

“We respond accordingly to ensure that playing field provision is enhanced through quality, modern pitches delivering increased usage capacity,” a spokesperson said.

The organisation is currently conducting an audit of the school estate to establish if it can increase access to local communities, with the results due to be published by the end of the year, he added.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow, which hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2014, said the city was committed to the delivery and legacy of the event.

“We launched a sports pitch strategy last year and when it is complete there will be outstanding sporting provision, bringing health, social and lifestyle benefits to our citizens and future generations.”


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