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Lottery to fund new city parks

A SCHEME to create more urban parks and playing fieldswas unveiled by the Government yesterday. The pounds 125m project, funded by the National Lottery, will benefit schools, councils and community groups, who will be able to apply for grants to transform their local landscape.

Money will be allocated to buy derelict land and improve existing green areas. It is hoped the scheme will help reverse the steep decline of land available for outdoor sport, which has seen an estimated 10,000 playing fields sold to developers in the past 20 years. The "green spaces initiative" will be spread over three years.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture and Sport, said yesterday: "It is a tragedy that thousands of school playing fields have been sold off, leaving youngsters with fewer green areas to play in and develop their sporting prowess whilst at the same time many acres of former industrial land lies unused. This scheme will benefit children, schools, community groups and our national sporting future."

Labour has promised to tackle the decline in school and grassroots sport; under the last government local authorities sold off 5,000 playing field sites to raise money.

Last year David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, introduced an amendment to the School Standards and Framework Bill which required local authorities to seek his approval before selling school playing fields that the Sports Council thought should be retained.

The Government also hopes its scheme will encourage greater access to the countryside and improve the environment through recycling schemes. Mr Smith said: "The green spaces initiative is aimed at giving communities the opportunities to improve the environment, delivering social and economic benefits, building community skills and bringing communities together."