Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play FAQs

We've been advising on the amount of accessible public open space that should be provided for communities since 1927, with the most recent edition - Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play - having been released in 2015. Historically known as the 'Six Acre Standard', our Guidance has long been acknowledged as the primary source of outdoor space provision by national and local government, as well as play practitioners.

Included in the latest document are guidelines for the quantity of green space per 1,000 people (minimum levels), accessibility of green space (given in walking distance) and quality of all types of recreational open space. It also includes recommended dimensions and buffer zones for a range of formal spaces, along with guidelines on how our benchmarks can be implemented in new housing developments.

Put together these are effectively a set of minimum standards on the quantity of green space that should enable residents to lead active lives and participate in outdoor sport and play.

Scottish and Welsh editions (including a Welsh language edition) recognise the different planning regimes in the devolved administrations and the requirements of Scottish and Welsh national sports governing bodies.

Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play is available online.

"Parks, playgrounds and playing fields play a vital role in building healthy neighbourhoods contributing to the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of local people. Without access to these spaces the quality of life and wellbeing of residents is reduced. Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play emphasises the need for a range of both formal and informal outdoor spaces to meet our recreational needs and the practical tools to guarantee sufficient space is available."
The Rt Hon The Lord Coe CH KBE

The Rt Hon The Lord Coe CH KBE

Here are answers to five of the most common questions we receive on our Guidance:


How did you derive your provision standards?

Ever since we first originated our standards for open space provision we surveyed local planning authorities across the country ahead of each edition. This helped us to ascertain the practicality and relevance of our benchmarks by assessing how widely the standards were held.

The findings of these surveys were then assessed by professional planning consultants and our own Planning and Policy Committee (a group of our Trustees with expertise in planning matters related to green space) and informed their decisions on setting the standards. The most recent survey showed that on average the majority of our formal outdoor space benchmarks, such as those for playing pitches and designated play areas, were being met. We were therefore able to retain these benchmarks as achievable and relevant standards.

We also used the survey to set benchmarks for informal spaces ('Parks and Gardens', 'Amenity Green Space' and 'Natural and Semi-Natural' spaces). This latest edition is the first time we have published standards for these types of spaces.

Other standards, such as recommended pitch sizes, are informed by the relevant governing bodies of those sports.

What are LAPs, LEAPs and NEAPs?

Fields in Trust first originated these terms for play areas in the 1980s, when we saw the need to provide detailed technical guidance for authorities on what exact provision should be made for children's play. The terms were widely adopted by both planners and play practitioners, and today are universally used when it comes to planning for play. Recognising the need for flexibility in play design, we don't give detailed prescriptive definitions of these three types of play areas, but here is an outline of each:

LAP (Local Area for Play):

A small area of open space specifically designated and primarily laid out for very young children to play close to where they live i.e. within one minute's walking time. LAPs are designed to allow for ease of informal observation and supervision and primarily function to encourage informal play and social interaction for toddlers. The LAP requires no play equipment as such, relying more on demonstrative features indicating that play is positively encouraged.

LEAP (Locally Equipped Area for Play):

An area of open space specifically designed and laid out with features including equipment for children who are beginning to play independently. The number and nature of equipment and structures is a matter for local decision, though provision for a minimum number of six play experiences is recommended.

Play features including equipment are an integral part of the LEAP and the attractiveness of such spaces, though it is also important that the space can be used for physical activity and games. LEAPs can also include landscaped areas of play; containing little formal equipment but imaginatively designed and contoured, using as far as is possible natural materials such as logs or boulders which create an attractive setting for play.

NEAP (Neighbourhood Equipped Area of Play):

This is an area of open space specifically designated, laid out and equipped mainly for older children but potentially with play opportunities for younger children as well. It can provide play equipment and a hard surface area for ball games or wheeled activities such as roller skating or cycling. It may provide other facilities such as a ramp for skateboarding, a rebound wall, and a shelter for meeting and socialising. NEAPs can often be combined with LEAP provision.

Can you add all your quantity standards up to give a total green space provision that a community should have?

Yes, this is possible, and potentially worth doing if you are looking at total provision for a specific community during any planning process.

To calculate a total quantity provision for our formal standards, the figures for 'All outdoor sports' (which includes or 'Playing pitches' figure), 'Equipped/designate play areas' and 'Other outdoor provision' should be added together. This gives a figure of 2.15 hectares per 1,000 people.

If you then add in our 'Amenity Green Space' benchmark that gives you a total of 2.75 hectares per 1,000 people or the more commonly known 'Six Acre Standard'.

However, we now go beyond formal provision and include standards for informal spaces such as 'Parks and Gardens' as well as 'Natural and Semi-Natural' spaces. If you add all of that into the mix that totals 5.35 hectares of total green space provision of all types per 1,000 people. This figure can then be multiplied or divided appropriately, depending on the size of your community.

If the total provision for the area is akin to our overall green space benchmark figure then we suggest there is flexibility in the benchmarks for each type of provision.

Are the standards the same for communities across the whole of the UK, in towns, cities and rural areas?

Yes, our standards are now the same for all communities across the UK. The most recent survey we conducted showed that the majority of local planning authorities do not differentiate between rural and urban areas when setting their open space standards so there was less merit in differentiating between these areas and we now use a comprehensive standard that can be applied anywhere.

Whilst the standards remain constant we do, however, publish different versions of the Guidance for England, Scotland and Wales to recognise the different planning legislation in the devolved administrations.



How should local planning authorities and building developers be using your provision guidance in the planning system?

Many local planning authorities have policies that actually state developers should follow Fields in Trust's Guidance when integrating outdoor space within new developments as part of their planning obligations. Table 2 within our Guidance gives benchmark guidelines on the types of spaces that should be provided for different scales of development. For very large-scale housing developments, with new residents numbering in the thousands, our standards in their entirety can be implemented. We are happy to advise developers and architects directly on the implementation of our guidance and also discuss how we can legally protect the green space that is being created.

The National Planning Policy Framework, the key piece of government legislation that dictates planning in England, states that "planning policies should be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the needs for open space, sport as and recreation facilities". Many local planning authorities now create their own open space standards for such assessments, with the majority based on, or referencing our Guidance (either referred to as Fields in Trust or National Playing Fields Association space standards). Within our own survey 75% of the authorities that responded indicated that they use our standards directly, or equivalent figures.

Local planning authorities should continue to use our standards to help inform their open space assessments and strategies that in turn form part of the evidence base for local planning. Our Guidance might also be additionally used within the local planning process to help determine which spaces may be appropriate to designate as 'Local Green Space', offering a level of protection within the planning system, for instance if a space is shown to be key to meeting a community's provision standard for playing pitches or amenity green space.