'The money's gone – and so have the places for kids to play'

Jonathan Brown visits a Leeds community where sports facilities are being left in ruin

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The Independent Online

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons might encapsulate the idealism of a carefree childhood in wide open settings, but around his old home in Hyde Park, Leeds, space is at a premium.

The writer's old, redbrick villa backs on to a small area of what is now scrubland, an abandoned swimming pool and sports centre – left to crumble behind a high security fence when fee-paying Leeds Girls' High School upped sticks and joined the middle-class flight to the city's northern fringes to merge with the boys' establishment in 2008.

If developers get their way the site could become the home of a new supermarket-owned convenience store and 25 houses.

The plan has been signalled for approval by Leeds City Council officers next week but has sparked a fierce reaction from local people who believe it should become a community sports facility.

"If you go into these surrounding streets there are kids playing football and cricket in back alleys. This area has some of the most densely populated streets in Britain.

"We are talking back-to-back houses where the front door opens on to the streets, and families have tiny yards the size of a tablecloth," said Sue Buckle, a retired teacher and member of the South Headingley Community Association.

Campaigners say the nearest sport centres are two miles away, and the five local primary schools have little if any outside area to play sport.

Amit Roy, a resident, said there was nowhere for his son to play. "It seems wrong that a grammar school with so much money has just abandoned the area. We don't want the facilities to die away," he said.

Helen Clapham, head of external relations of the Grammar School at Leeds, which has 150 acres of land and is home to national netball and rugby champions as well as Olympic diver Hannah Starling, said the pool and tennis courts had been offered to the council and community groups at the time of the merger but had proved too expensive to maintain.

But Martin Hamilton, a local councillor, said young people in his ward needed all the help they could get. "It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when you are having all this success in the Olympics and you are stopping all these kids from less privileged backgrounds from playing sport," he said.

A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said the development would not give rise to any unacceptable consequences for the environment, community or other public interests.