Failed community playing field bid referred to ministers

A failed community group bid to permanently list a school playing field as a community asset is being referred to ministers after Leeds City Council turned the request down.

Leeds City Council agreed that playing fields from the former private Leeds Girls High School could be listed as "a community asset" under the community right to bid rules but changed its mind after the landowner appealed, leaving the owner free to sell the land for development.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland raised the issue in the House of Commons on 10 October when he asked for a debate on the subject.

He said: "Leeds city council recently turned down applications for a playing field and a swimming pool in Headingley and Hyde Park, where there are very few such facilities, on the grounds that the community would not realistically be able to buy them.

"I do not think that that is appropriate in terms of legislation. May we have a debate to establish whether the community could at least try to bid for those facilities?"

Leader of the House Andrew Lansley said Mulholland made an important point.

"I will ask Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond specifically on how the new legislation should be interpreted in relation to what should be entered on to the register of community assets and whether some pre-emptive decision should be made about whether the community would be able to bid for that.

"It is important that assets of community value can include sports fields and sports facilities."

Under the right, set down under the Localism Act 2011 and in force since last year, if the owner of the listed asset wants to sell it he or she must allow a six month pause so that an interested community group can raise the money to bid for it under the local market.

At a special event to announce the winner of the Green Flag People’s Choice winner in Burgess Park, south London last week, senior civil servant Ben Llewellyn  urged communities to use the right to bid to protect green space.

Llewellyn, the deputy director of big society and community rights at the Department of Communities and Local Government said the Government "was making it easier for communities to take control over the places they value and love."

Leeds City Council director of city development Martin Farrington said the decision was taken after "careful consideration and a thorough review carried out in accordance with the Localism Act."

"While I appreciate that the decision will be disappointing to the members of the community that nominated the site, the law is very specific on the factors that can be taken into account, and each element being reviewed must be passed for it to remain on the list.

"In this instance, the conclusion was that it could not be considered realistic that the site could be brought back into community use in the next five years due to the likely cost of buying the site, so on that basis it failed the statutory test."


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