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Former England cricket star attacks Croydon Council over school playing fields plan


FORMER England cricketer and Croydon schoolboy Mark Butcher says the council should forget about building on school playing fields.

The batsman, one of the borough's best-known sporting exports, believes any plan to develop over green space would impinge on the opportunities children have to exercise and access sport.

The Surrey legend, who was a pupil at Cumnor House and Trinity schools, said: "School playing fields should not be built on unless there is an unbelievably good reason and there's no other option. I don't think we are at that point."

Last week the Advertiser revealed the council is considering building affordable housing on school playing fields.

A council report said there are schools in Croydon which have "very large" playing fields which might be considered "excessive" and could be developed upon.

Despite the councillor behind the idea going on record as saying playing fields should not be immune from development, the Labour administration appeared desperate to distance itself from the policy this week, while at the same time approving the strategy at a cabinet meeting on Monday night.

The report in question does not identify specific schools but Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance, said all of the borough's playing fields would be reviewed.

He attempted to downplay the controversy around the policy by suggesting there were certain playing fields where development could be appropriate.

They include fields which are disproportionately large compared to the number of pupils at that school and others with certain areas Cllr Hall said are no longer in use.

Mr Butcher believes any level of development would set a dangerous precedent.

He said: "I appreciate housing is at a premium, but I think [developing on playing fields] is a very dangerous idea because you remove places for kids to be able to get out and run around.

"This isn't about Croydon producing less professional sports people, it's about children being introduced to sport. It's something that's bloody important for life skills, not just getting careers out of.

"There's no justification in saying it would only be certain parts of fields. If you look ten miles north of here, children don't have green space to use. Fast forward 30 years and Croydon could become like that.

"I'm no expert but what I do know is once these things start to creep they become insidious and very difficult to stop.

"At some point you have to draw the line and say 'no, I'm afraid not. This has to say as it is'."

Cllr Hall, cabinet member for finance, said last week that the council, which faces having to find £90 million of cuts while providing more school places, has to make the best use of its assets and that school playing fields should be "in the mix".

This week his party appeared desperate to row back from the policy when confronted about it.

Council leader Tony Newman eventually took to Twitter on Tuesday to claim the council had no plans to build on school playing fields, despite approving the strategy containing the idea – without amendments – the previous evening.

Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, has begun a campaign against any potential playing field development, describing the policy as "appalling".

"There are plenty of brownfield sites in Croydon suitable for development," he said.

Sarah Jones, his Labour rival for the seat at next year's General Election, said she had received assurances from Cllr Newman that playing fields would not be built on, but declined to say what her position would be if they were.

The council has not revealed which playing fields are 'excessive' despite Cllr Hall telling the Advertiser that a list of schools had been drawn up.

Former England cricket star attacks Croydon Council over school playing fields plan

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