Corby and East Northants MP’s bid to give people more say in playing field sell-offs

Tom Pursglove with Jo Trott and Julie Grove at the school playing field in Oundle
Tom Pursglove with Jo Trott and Julie Grove at the school playing field in Oundle

A Bill requiring the sale of parks and playing fields to be subject to public consultation has passed its first reading in Parliament.

The Bill, introduced by Corby and East Northants MP Tom Pursglove, also requires a referendum if enough people sign a petition against any sell-off.

Mr Pursglove was inspired to introduce the Private Members’ Bill, which will not necessarily attract Government support, by the proposed sale of part of Oundle Primary School’s playing fields.

Those proposals have since been altered, following a large outcry in the town, with most of the fields being transferred by the county council to the school.

Mr Pursglove told the House of Commons: “This Bill has come about in support of thousands of my constituents who are concerned about the proposed selling of a school playing field in Oundle at the site of what will be, in September, Oundle primary school.

“Recently, there has been a restructuring of the local education system that has led to a three-tier system becoming a two-tier system.

“In March this year, parents and the school’s governing body were shocked to learn that proposals had come forward for over 50 per cent of the playing field to be sold off.

“At present, the playing field is well used by the school at breaks and lunchtimes, as well as for games lessons. It is also well used by local community sports clubs.

“Not only would local school children be adversely affected by this, but losing part of the playing field would have a dramatic effect on local sports clubs, including Oundle Town cricket club.

“In response, a petition was immediately started by Julie Grove, an Oundle mum, whose children will be directly affected by this sale.

“Then came the brilliantly organised Oundle recreation and green spaces group, who have got out there, spoken to local people and businesses, created campaign videos, and galvanised support for this campaign.

“Talking about the level of support brings me to the substance of my Bill.

“Despite over 3,750 local residents signing the petition, there is no obligation on Northamptonshire County Council to take that into consideration when reaching a decision, nor does it have any binding effect.

“With such overwhelming local concern formally registered, how can that possibly be right?

“My Bill would enshrine in law that a local authority wishing to sell off parks and playing fields must go through the process of a statutory consultation.

“One of the biggest complaints made has been that consultation on such sales nationally has been shockingly woeful.

“I therefore propose that should a verifiable 10 per cent of electors in any ward affected sign a petition, it will trigger a local referendum, of which the result will be binding.

“Essentially, that would provide a localist lock and ensure that the strength of local feeling is reflected in any decisions taken in relation to local parks and playing fields.

“In other words, it would be very difficult for the 3,750 people in Oundle to be ignored.”

The Bill will now be read a second time on Friday, October 23.