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Francis: Protecting playing fields in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"There has certainly been disagreement as to whether there is an issue with regard to the loss of playing fields in Wales.

There appears to be a perception—sadly, quite often among so-called experts—that, compared with England and Scotland, the loss of playing fields in Wales is not a major strategic issue.

Back in June, the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport told the Assembly that the Sports Council Wales, which is our expert on this matter, has advised us that the sale of school land is not a significant issue in Wales.

Conversely, I am in possession of a letter from the Minister for Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills from February of last year, in which she states that she expects authorities, in drawing up their programmes for investment in schools, to have regard to the need for playing fields and playground facilities, but also to consider whether the disposal of sites that are surplus to requirements can facilitate new investment.

It seems to be pretty clear from that statement that the Minister expects authorities to consider disposing of surplus school playing fields in a bid to be fit for purpose. When the loss of playing fields occurs, many of us would be able to show from constituents' letters that it can be very serious, locally.

Thusfar, the Welsh Assembly Government has no plans to collect statistics on playing field development applications, as is the case in England. However, here are a couple of interesting facts.

For every acre of play space, there are 80 acres of golf club space in Wales. Across the UK, playing fields have been lost at a rate of one a day over the last eight years.

The sports council uses the definition of a playing field provided in the town and country planning Order and it is this definition that needs to be changed. It states that local authorities must consult with the sports council on planning applications and defines a playing field as:

'the whole of a site which encompasses at least one playing pitch'.

In this context, a playing pitch means a delineated area which, together with any run-off area, is of 0.4 ha or more, and which is used for a variety of field games.

In terms of scale, 0.4 ha is approximately the size of an adult football pitch. Therefore, children's pitches, which are approximately 0.2 ha, or half of that size, are not classed as playing pitches, and as a result, are unable to be classed as playing fields.

Land containing these unclassified children's pitches is therefore more vulnerable to building development or sale at the hands of local authorities.

The minimum-size requirement included within the definition of a playing pitch also means that smaller areas of open green space—local playgrounds, for instance—cannot be defined as a designated recreation area.

In order to protect this land, the National Playing Fields Association would prefer the definition of a playing field to be extended to include any open space used and laid out for the purpose of play, sport and recreation. It is currently aware of 15 sites that could be so described that are under threat in Wales.

I propose that, through the use of legislative powers, the current definition of what constitutes a playing field should be amended to mean any land in the open air that is used for the purposes of physical education or recreation.

This does not encroach upon public space, and it does not pose any risk to alternative outdoor recreation facilities. It does, however, enable open and green space to be officially documented as land designated for recreation—a sorely lacking element in Wales today, unless you count golf courses, of course.

Without this documentation, it is impossible to collate the statistical impact of playing field losses in Wales. We may lose numerous children's pitches in every town or village in our country, but their loss is easily brushed under the carpet—and all because they are below an arbitrary measurement of size.

The sports council has stated that: 'some strengthening of existing policy would be beneficial, particularly as increasing participation in sport and physical activity to improve health is now a significant policy goal of this Government.'

It would be prudent if we could monitor more of such areas rather than just fields with pitches the size of an adult football pitch.

To move away from this technical speak for a minute, the point that I am trying to make is that there is a world of difference between play and organised sport. It follows, therefore, that there is a world of difference between a playing field and a playing pitch.

I was fortunate to attend a primary school in the village of Dinas Mawddwy in Meirionydd. To the rear of the school was a grassy field of approximately three acres known to all as cae'r ysgol—an imaginative name by all accounts.

For me and my fellow school mates, this represented our safe, visible space to play in, on school days and at weekends. I believe that it was crucial and vital to our development as children.

The field was equipped with a couple of climbing frames, on which some of us aspired to be Olga Corbett, although I know that that might be difficult to imagine now. We also played team games such as cricket, rounders and football, using sweaters, school bags and shoes for goal posts and stumps.

I am sure that that strikes a chord with many Members. At other times we used our imagination and invented our own games, such as cops and robbers, and cowboys and indians. We would be horses, aeroplanes or whirling dervishes, and, when the grass was mown, we would weave it into the perimeter fence and build dens and grass houses.

We learned to bowl a ball, to catch, to climb, to fly kites, and we also learned how to share, take part, join in, watch out for each other, inspire and aspire.

In this wonderful protected environment of freedom and fresh air, which was all free of charge, we were superbly confident and fearless. There were no hire charges and no need to telephone to pre-book this facility, and for most of us living in the village, it was less than a six-minute walk down the road.

This Government says that it recognises the crucial importance of play to the development of children's physical, mental, social, emotional and creative skills.

The play policy was published in 2002 and the implementation action plan followed earlier this year. This Government says it is committed to ensuring that all children have access to rich, stimulating environments in which to play freely.

The environment strategy states that every community should have a high-quality, well-planned built environment, providing access to green spaces and areas for recreation. It also acknowledges that a lack of such places can have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.

Similar messages have been drummed out by this Government over the last few years in a plethora of publications, including the Wales spatial plan, 'Climbing Higher', the child poverty strategy, and 'Planning Policy Wales'.

This Government has not stinted in the publication of documents that aspire to create a healthier nation, and supporting my proposal today will afford it another rung on the ladder in seeking to achieve its aims.

While 'Planning Policy Wales' advocated the protection of just about all playing fields, the list of exceptions it provides has been open to too loose an interpretation by many local authorities. For example, where planning permission is given for development, instruction is provided to

'make alternative provision of community benefit'.

Theoretically, that should allow for the immediate replacement of recreational areas. In reality, this all too often means that the original facility is replaced two or three years later in a distant and inaccessible location.

That is unacceptable. Also, in determining what might represent 'an excess of provision', it has been widely acknowledged that few local authorities have undertaken any rigorous assessments of provision.

The most recent Welsh Assembly Government publication concerning playing fields is the 'Consultation on Draft Revised Technical Advice Note 16: "Sport, Recreation and Open Space"

'.. Boy, have we waited a long time for this, and it does seem to hint that the authors may have at last grasped how to differentiate between playing pitches and playing fields, although it states—just like 'Planning Policy Wales' did before it—that it will still be for the local authority to determine what it regards as better or at least equivalent in terms of the size, characteristics, location and accessibility of any replacement sites offered.

The Minister will know that it is not within the remit of TAN 16 to amend the definition of a playing field, which is why I stand before you today.

Good local authorities should keep up-to-date and accurate information about open spaces and sport and recreational facilities. Sadly, they are not so conscientious.

The National Playing Fields Association champions what is called the 'six-acre standard', which requires as a minimum standard for outdoor playing space six acres per 1,000 people, and it states that within these six acres, four acres should be set aside for sport and two acres for children's play.

Childhood obesity and early-onset diabetes are becoming the greatest medical concerns in our country. In Wales, 22 per cent of boys and 17 per cent of girls aged over 13 are now classed as overweight or obese.

Today presents an opportunity for this Government to show that it is genuinely committed to improving the health and welfare of our children by accepting these proposals. I ask today for support for amendments to legislation that will enable every child and member of a community in Wales to enjoy the freedom of a free-of-charge, sizable, protected, green recreational area, which could be close enough to home to be accessed by toddlers, parents with buggies and wheelchair users.

I believe that that is essential and fundamental to every person's wellbeing in Wales. I hope that you all do, too."

"Yn sicr, bu anghytundeb o ran pa un a yw colli meysydd chwarae yng Nghymru yn broblem. Ymddengys bod canfyddiad—yn anffodus, yn aml ymhlith yr hyn a elwir yn arbenigwyr—nad yw colli meysydd chwarae yng Nghymru, o'i gymharu â Lloegr a'r Alban, yn broblem strategol o bwys.

Yn ôl ym mis Mehefin, dywedodd y Gweinidog dros Ddiwylliant, y Gymraeg a Chwaraeon wrth y Cynulliad i Gyngor Chwaraeon Cymru, sef ein harbenigwr ar y mater hwn, ein cynghori nad yw gwerthu tir ysgolion yn fater o bwys yng Nghymru.

I'r gwrthwyneb i hynny, mae gennyf lythyr yn fy meddiant gan y Gweinidog dros Addysg, Dysgu Gydol Oes a Sgiliau dyddiedig Chwefror y llynedd, lle y noda ei bod yn disgwyl i awdurdodau, wrth lunio'u rhaglenni buddsoddi mewn ysgolion, i ystyried yr angen am feysydd chwarae a chyfleusterau iard chwarae, ond hefyd y dylent ystyried pa un a allai gwaredu safleoedd sy'n fwy na'r angen hwyluso buddsoddi o'r newydd.

Ymddengys yn gymharol glir o'r datganiad, fod y Gweinidog yn disgwyl i awdurdodau ystyried gwaredu meysydd chwarae ysgolion sy'n fwy na'r angen mewn ymgais i fod yn addas at y diben. Pan fydd meysydd chwarae yn cael eu colli, byddai llawer ohonom yn gallu dangos o lythyrau etholwyr y gallai fod yn ddifrifol iawn, yn lleol.

Hyd yma, nid oes gan Lywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru gynlluniau i gasglu ystadegau ar geisiadau i ddatblygu meysydd chwarae, fel y gwneir yn Lloegr. Fodd bynnag, dyma ychydig o ffeithiau diddorol.

Am bob erw o fan chwarae, mae 80 erw o le i glybiau golff yng Nghymru. Ledled y DU, collwyd meysydd chwarae ar gyfradd o un y dydd dros yr wyth mlynedd diwethaf.

Mae'r cyngor chwaraeon yn defnyddio'r diffiniad o faes chwarae a ddarperir yn y Gorchymyn cynllunio gwlad a thref a'r diffiniad hwn y mae angen ei newid. Mae'n datgan bod yn rhaid i awdurdodau lleol ymgynghori â'r cyngor chwaraeon ar geisiadau cynllunio ac mae'n diffinio maes chwarae fel:

safle cyfan sy'n cwmpasu o leiaf un cae chwarae.

Yn y cyd-destun hwn, mae cae chwarae yn golygu ardal ddynodedig sydd, ynghyd ag unrhyw ardal ymylol/ar yr ymylon, yn 0.4 ha neu'n fwy, ac a ddefnyddir ar gyfer amrywiaeth o gemau maes. O ran maint, mae 0.4 ha tua maint cae pêl-droed oedolion.

Felly, ni chaiff caeau plant, sydd tua 0.2 ha, neu hanner y maint hwnnw, eu dosbarthu fel caeau chwarae, ac o ganlyniad, ni ellir eu dosbarthu fel meysydd chwarae. O ganlyniad, mae'r tir sy'n cynnwys y caeau chwarae hyn i blant nas dosbarthwyd yn fwy agored i ddatblygiadau adeiladu neu i gael ei werthu gan awdurdodau lleol.

Mae'r gofyniad o ran maint lleiaf a gaiff ei gynnwys o fewn y diffiniad o gae chwarae hefyd yn golygu na ellir diffinio ardaloedd llai o fannau gwyrdd agored—lleoedd chwarae lleol, er enghraifft—fel ardal hamdden ddynodedig.

Er mwyn diogelu'r tir hwn, byddai'n well gan Feysydd Chwarae Cymru petai'r diffiniad o faes chwarae yn cael ei ehangu i gynnwys unrhyw fan agored a ddefnyddir ac a gynllunnir at ddibenion chwarae, campau a hamdden. Ar hyn o bryd, mae'n ymwybodol o 15 o safleoedd y gellid eu disgrifio felly sydd mewn perygl yng Nghymru.

Cynigiaf, drwy ddefnyddio pwerau deddfwriaethol, y dylid diwygio'r diffiniad cyfredol o'r hyn sy'n gyfystyr â maes chwarae i olygu unrhyw dir yn yr awyr agored a ddefnyddir at ddibenion addysg gorfforol neu hamdden.

Nid yw hyn yn tresmasu ar fannau cyhoeddus, ac nid yw'n peri unrhyw risg i gyfleusterau hamdden eraill yn yr awyr agored. Fodd bynnag, mae'n galluogi mannau agored a mannau gwyrdd i gael eu dogfennu'n swyddogol fel tir a ddynodwyd ar gyfer hamdden—elfen sy'n sicr ar goll yng Nghymru heddiw, oni chyfrifwch gyrsiau golff, wrth gwrs.

Heb y ddogfennaeth hon, mae'n amhosibl coladu effaith ystadegol colli meysydd chwarae yng Nghymru. Efallai y byddwn yn colli nifer o gaeau chwarae plant ym mhob tref neu bentref yn ein gwlad, ond caiff y colledion hyn eu hanwybyddu'n hawdd—a hynny oherwydd eu bod yn llai na mesuriadau mympwyol o ran maint.

Mae'r cyngor chwaraeon wedi datgan:

y byddai atgyfnerthu'r polisi presennol yn fuddiol, yn enwedig gan fod cynyddu cyfranogiad mewn chwaraeon a gweithgarwch corfforol i wella iechyd bellach yn un o nodau polisi allweddol y Llywodraeth hon.

Byddai'n ddoeth pe gallem fonitro mwy o ardaloedd o'r fath yn hytrach na dim ond meysydd sydd â chaeau o faint cae pêl-droed oedolion.

I droi oddi wrth y siarad technegol hwn am funud, y pwynt yr wyf yn ceisio ei wneud yw bod byd o wahaniaeth rhwng chwarae a chwaraeon a drefnwyd. Mae'n dilyn, felly, bod byd o wahaniaeth rhwng maes chwarae a chae chwarae.

Yr oeddwn yn ddigon ffodus i fynychu ysgol gynradd ym mhentref Dinas Mawddwy ym Meirionydd. Yng nghefn yr ysgol yr oedd cae gwelltog tua thair erw o ran maint a elwid yn gae'r ysgol gan bawb—enw llawn dychymyg ym mhob ystyr.

I mi a'm ffrindiau ysgol, dyma oedd ein man chwarae diogel, gweladwy, ar ddiwrnodau ysgol ac ar y penwythnos. Credaf ei bod yn hollbwysig ac yn hanfodol i'n datblygiad fel plant. Yr oedd ychydig o fframiau dringo ar y cae, lle yr oedd rhai ohonom yn dyheu am fod yn Olga Corbett, er y gwn y gallai fod yn anodd dychmygu hynny yn awr.

Bu inni chwarae gemau tîm fel criced, rownderi a phêl-droed hefyd, gan ddefnyddio siwmperi, bagiau ysgol ac esgidiau fel pyst gôl a wicedi. Yr wyf yn siwr bod llawer o Aelodau yn gwneud yr un peth. Ar adegau eraill byddem yn defnyddio ein dychymyg ac yn dyfeisio ein gemau ein hunain, fel 'cops and robbers', a 'cowbois ac indiaid cochion'.

Byddem yn geffylau, yn awyrennau neu'n dderfisiaid chwyrlïol, a, phan fyddai'r gwair wedi'i dorri, byddem yn ei wehyddu yn y ffens ar hyd y terfyn ac yn adeiladu lleoedd cuddio a thai gwair. Bu inni ddysgu sut i fowlio pêl, dal pêl, dringo, hedfan barcut, a bu inni hefyd ddysgu sut i rannu, cymryd rhan, ymuno, gofalu am ein gilydd, ysbrydoli a dyheu.

Yn yr amgylchedd diogel hyfryd hwn o ryddid ac aer ffres, a'r cyfan am ddim, yr oeddem yn gwbl hyderus ac yn ddi-ofn. Nid oedd unrhyw gostau hurio ac nid oedd angen ffonio i archebu'r cyfleuster hwn ymlaen llaw, ac i'r rhan fwyaf ohonom a oedd yn byw yn y pentref, yr oedd yn llai na chwe munud i lawr y ffordd ar droed.

Dywed y Llywodraeth ei bod yn cydnabod pwysigrwydd hanfodol chwarae i ddatblygiad sgiliau corfforol, meddwl, cymdeithasol, emosiynol a chreadigol plant.

Cyhoeddwyd y polisi chwarae yn 2002 a dilynodd y cynllun gweithredu yn gynharach eleni. Dywed y Llywodraeth hon ei bod yn ymrwymedig i sicrhau bod gan bob plentyn fynediad i amgylcheddau da, symbylol lle y gallant chwarae'n rhydd.

Mae strategaeth yr amgylchedd yn datgan y dylai fod gan bob cymuned amgylchedd adeiledig o ansawdd uchel, a gynlluniwyd yn dda, sy'n rhoi mynediad i fannau gwyrdd ac ardaloedd hamdden. Mae'n cydnabod hefyd y gall prinder lleoedd o'r fath gael effaith niweidiol ar ein hiechyd a'n lles.

Cafwyd negeseuon tebyg gan y Llywodraeth hon dros yr ychydig flynyddoedd diwethaf mewn llu o gyhoeddiadau, yn cynnwys cynllun gofodol Cymru, 'Dringo'n Uwch', y strategaeth tlodi plant, a 'Pholisi Cynllunio Cymru'.

Nid yw'r Llywodraeth hon wedi ymatal rhag cyhoeddi dogfennau sy'n dyheu am greu gwlad iachach, a bydd cefnogi fy nghynnig heddiw yn ei symud gam yn nes at geisio cyflawni ei nodau.

Er bod 'Polisi Cynllunio Cymru' yn dadlau o blaid diogelu bron bob maes chwarae, bu'r rhestr o eithriadau a ddarperir ganddo yn agored i ddehongliadau rhy lac gan lawer o awdurdodau lleol. Er enghraifft, lle y rhoddir caniatâd cynllunio i ddatblygiad, rhoddir cyfarwyddyd i

sicrhau darpariaeth amgen o fudd cymunedol.

Yn ddamcaniaethol, dylai hynny sicrhau y darperir cyfleusterau ar unwaith yn lle ardaloedd hamdden. Mewn gwirionedd, mae hyn yn rhy aml yn golygu y darperir cyfleuster newydd yn lle'r cyfleuster gwreiddiol ddwy neu dair blynedd yn ddiweddarach mewn lleoliad pell ac anhygyrch.

Mae hynny'n annerbyniol. Hefyd, wrth benderfynu ar yr hyn a allai gynrychioli 'gormod o ddarpariaeth', cydnabuwyd yn eang mai ychydig o awdurdodau lleol sydd wedi cynnal unrhyw asesiadau trylwyr o ddarpariaeth.

Cyhoeddiad diweddaraf Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru sy'n ymwneud â meysydd chwarae yw 'Diwygio Nodyn Cyngor Technegol 16: "Chwaraeon, Hamdden a Mannau Agored" - Drafft Ymgynghori'.

Yr ydym yn sicr wedi aros yn hir am hyn, ac ymddengys ei fod yn awgrymu bod yr awduron, o'r diwedd o bosibl, wedi amgyffred sut i wahaniaethu rhwng caeau chwarae a meysydd chwarae, er ei fod yn datgan—yn union fel y gwnaeth 'Polisi Cynllunio Cymru' o'i flaen—mai cyfrifoldeb yr awdurdod lleol o hyd fydd penderfynu ar yr hyn sy'n ddarpariaeth well neu o leiaf yn ddarpariaeth gyfatebol, yn ei farn, o ran maint, nodweddion, lleoliad a hygyrchedd unrhyw safleoedd a gynigir yn lle'r rhai gwreiddiol.

Bydd y Gweinidog yn gwybod nad yw o fewn cylch gwaith Nodyn Cyngor Technegol 16 i ddiwygio'r diffiniad o faes chwarae, a dyna'r rheswm y safaf ger eich bron heddiw.

Dylai awdurdodau lleol da gadw gwybodaeth gyfredol a chywir am fannau agored a chyfleusterau chwaraeon a hamdden. Yn anffodus, nid ydynt mor gydwybodol â hynny.

Mae Meysydd Chwarae Cymru yn hyrwyddo'r hyn a elwir yn 'safon chwe erw', sy'n ei gwneud yn ofynnol bod mannau chwarae yn yr awyr agored yn cynnwys o leiaf chwe erw fesul 1,000 o bobl, ac mae'n datgan y dylid neilltuo pedair erw o'r chwe erw hyn ar gyfer chwaraeon a dwy erw ar gyfer chwarae plant.

Mae gordewdra ymhlith plant a diabetes sy'n dechrau'n gynnar yn dod yn bryderon meddygol sylweddol yn ein gwlad. Yng Nghymru, caiff 22 y cant o fechgyn a 17 y cant o ferched dros 13 oed eu dosbarthu bellach fel dros bwysau neu'n ordew.

Mae heddiw'n gyfle i'r Llywodraeth hon ddangos ei bod yn wirioneddol ymrwymedig i wella iechyd a lles ein plant drwy dderbyn y cynigion hyn. Gofynnaf heddiw am gefnogaeth i ddiwygio deddfwriaeth a fydd yn galluogi bob plentyn ac aelod o gymuned yng Nghymru i fwynhau rhyddid man hamdden gwyrdd wedi'i ddiogelu, o faint sylweddol, am ddim, a allai fod yn ddigon agos i'r cartref fel y gall plant bach, rhieni â bygis a defnyddwyr cadeiriau olwyn ei ddefnyddio.

Credaf fod hynny'n hanfodol ac yn sylfaenol i les bob person yng Nghymru. Gobeithiaf eich bod oll yn cytuno."

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