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Planning changes 'threat to sport'

The future of thousands of playing fields and sports grounds will be put at risk by Government plans to relax the planning rules, campaigners have warned.

The Sports and Recreation Alliance - representing 320 governing bodies - said the changes would make it "ludicrously easy" for developers to build on sports pitches.

The Government argues that reform of the planning laws is essential to boost housebuilding and kick start the stalled economy.

However in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the SRA said the changes removed crucial protection for open spaces and it accused ministers of ignoring the benefits of sport.

"As community sports facilities are non-profit facilities, it will be ludicrously easy for developers to prove an economic case for a new development over a grass playing pitch," it said.

"This is a huge threat to sport as only one in five sports clubs owns its own facilities; the rest must use public space and hired facilities. This policy ignores the benefits of sport and means that open space, sport and recreation facilities will be more vulnerable to development than they are at the moment."

Organisations backing the SRA letter include the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Lawn Tennis Association and the Rugby Football Union.

Richard Lewis, the chairman of Sport England, told the paper: "Sport England has serious concerns about the proposals in their current form. As drafted they would undermine our ability to protect playing fields from development through our role as a statutory consultee on planning applications."

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "Sports facilities and playing fields will benefit from new protections under the Government's planning reforms.

"Communities will be able to designate playing fields as 'green areas' which cannot be developed on. And leisure centres and other sports facilities will be saved as councils will be told to avoid development that would result in 'unnecessary loss of valued facilities and services'. These protections go much further than the previous planning regime."

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