Playing by the Rules
Associate Helen Hayward looks at the rules required if you are considering disposing of or changing the use of land used as a playing field, or indeed any school land.
Outdoor space is vital to the fabric of any school. Physical education provision has long since been recognised as key to a child’s development, and certainly in the aftermath of the London Olympics there was a heightened drive to encourage sport of all kinds in our schools. Increasingly too however, the use of outdoor learning is highlighted as being just as important as indoor learning, and this has given a further important focus to the school playing field.
So, outdoor space for a school is an essential asset. As we might expect the disposal, or change of use of a school playing field, is heavily regulated. The statutory framework governing this area is dependant to some extent on the nature of the school and the structure of the land ownership, but the overarching principle is that disposal of a playing field, or the change of use of a playing field, requires the consent of the Secretary of State.
Government guidance (“Protection of school playing fields and public land: advice”) from March 2014, is a good place to start for an overall view. The guidance is specified as having been prepared for local authorities, governing bodies, trustees, diocesan authorities, voluntary bodies, academies and sports organisations. The guidance outlines the application criteria for disposal or change of use of a playing field. The principle message is clear; the presumption will be in favour of the protection of existing school playing fields and the current outdoor provision offered by a school.
All relevant matters will be considered by the Secretary of State in considering the application including the school’s needs, other schools’ needs, the curriculum, community use and finance (including the details of where the proceeds will go), and equal opportunities. The Secretary of State expects to see evidence of a comprehensive consultation (at least 6 weeks, with at least 4 weeks of this during school term) with a list of consultees to include the school head teacher and governing body, the parents of pupils attending the school, any group with permission to use the playing field, the local authority and any other maintained or special schools within a radius of the school which currently has inadequate provision. The applicant will also be asked to provide a list of specified information about the school and the proposals.
The consent of the Secretary of State is just part of the picture for a proposed disposal or change of use. There are other important considerations, not least dealing with any backlash of public opinion. Property may also be affected by restrictive covenants or third party rights which impact its disposal and possible use. Playing fields can too be particularly vulnerable to the establishment of public and private rights of way, village green registrations, and perhaps even to being “assets of community value” under the Localism Act 2011.
So if you are considering disposing of, or changing the use of land, used as playing field, or indeed any school land, then a careful review and compliance with the rules is required. If you need any further assistance in this regard then please contact Helen Hayward on 01228 552222 or any other member of our commercial property team who would be only too happy to assist.
About the author
Helen is a Partner and head of the Commercial Property team.