Sport England offers tips on how to save under-threat facilities

Sports clubs at risk of having their playing fields or facilities sold off or closed should list them as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), according to guidance published by Sport England.

The grassroots organisation has launched the Community Rights for Sport Guidance programme, with the aim of helping clubs and groups protect their pitches, pavilions and swimming pools when they believe they are being eyed-up by developers. Being listed as an ACV gives the club members or local community the right to bid for the under-threat facility at a later date, meaning it cannot be sold by the landowner without the said group having the right to bid.

Sport England has created an online tool which provides step-by-step guidance for individuals and groups exploring an ACV, Right to Bid and Community Asset Transfer process. It will also provide money for some groups to fund financial advice and the development of business plans, although the size of the fund is yet to be determined.

Listing the facility as an ACV does not create an obligation to buy or take over its management. Leicester-based football club Wigston United FC used an ACV after the pitches it uses were put up for sale. It has since secured a grant and is fundraising to find the remaining sum needed to buy the site. The strategy has been used to great effect by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which has helped support 950 pubs using the ACV. Communities minister, Marcus Jones MP, said the guidance was a “fantastic tool to help sport and recreation clubs have their say on the future of their precious pitches”. “As well as looking at the guidance, we recommend in the first instance you contact your Local Authority and ask for an ACV registration form,” said Sport England lead on planning, Brian Whaley.

Separately, Sport England has released figures revealing that 92 per cent of all resolved playing field planning applications it had been involved in throughout 2013/14 had resulted in improved or secured facilities. The body has a statutory right to be consulted by councils whenever anyone wants to develop on a playing field. If it believes the development will impact the area’s sports provision negatively it will object or try to negotiate improved facilities or pitches as part of the developers plans.

Of the 1,272 planning applications Sport England was involved in, 1,176 playing fields were improved or remained as they were. In 51 per cent of the cases in which Sport England objected negotiations led to “an overall improvement in sports provisions”. The remaining 49 per cent of applications were either withdrawn, refused by the local authority or are yet to be determined. 7.5 per cent were approved despite Sport England objections.

First published at 7 December 2015 and wirtten by Matthew Campell