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Government 'sold playing fields against advice'

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Ministers have approved sell-offs of playing fields in defiance of official advice

The Daily Telegraph claims to have seen documents revealing that the Department for Education overruled the recommendations not to sell by the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel.

It said this had happened five times since February 2011 – more than in the previous nine years.

Elliott School (pictured) in South-west London, where Wandsworth Council plans to partially demolish John Bancroft’s 1954 buildings, was the most high-profile of these cases.

About 40 per cent of the site could be sold for housing to help fund the refurbishment of what remains.

Former British ambassador to Iraq and local resident Terence Clark last month joined the scheme’s chorus of objectors, which also includes English Heritage, The Twentieth Century Society, Docomomo and Bancroft’s widow, Janet.

However, Wandsworth Council’s finance and corporate resources committee will be asked to endorse the proposal next week.

The local authority insisted the refurbishment plans had the full backing of headteacher Mark Phillips, its governors and local parents.

The DfE declined to comment on individual schools but a spokesman said most of the decisions were taken by junior ministers.

‘Each decision was made by a minister after careful consideration of the arguments. Ministers have sought to ensure that proceeds go to improving sports facilities for young people overall. We are, of course, happy to publish the reasons for each decision.

‘As the secretary of state has said, this government has tightened protections for existing playing fields.

‘Prior to launching a consultation on new rules for playing fields, officials briefed the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel. They have contributed to the consultation alongside many other interested parties. The panel also met a member of the ministerial team earlier this year to discuss matters of common concern.’

The other schools where the government is alleged to have overturned the advice of the panel include: Woodhouse Middle School in Staffordshire; Clarborough Primary School in Nottinghamshire; and Ingleton Middle School in North Yorkshire.

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