Re­vealed: More than one pub­lic play park is closed ev­ery week

347 lost in past 4 years ... left to rot, over­run by thugs or con­creted over by prop­erty de­vel­op­ers

The Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Michael Powell and Jonathan Bucks

PLAY­GROUNDS are be­ing closed at the alarm­ing rate of nearly two a week as they fall vic­tim to ne­glect, van­dal­ism and prop­erty de­vel­op­ers, The Mail on Sun­day can re­veal.

To the dis­may of fam­i­lies, a stag­ger­ing 347 coun­cil play­grounds have been axed since 2014 – the equiv­a­lent of seven a month – ac­cord­ing to the new fig­ures.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have re­moved 70 play­grounds in the last year alone – and they plan to fur­ther slash spend­ing on fa­cil­i­ties by al­most half in the next two years.

The fig­ures, ob­tained by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Play In­dus­tries (API), paint a stark pic­ture of the demise of play­grounds across Bri­tain. Ex­perts fear the clo­sures are do­ing dam­age to the phys­i­cal and men­tal health of chil­dren.

The find­ings come as this news­pa­per’s Save Our Parks cam­paign at­tracts ever greater sup­port. Lead­ing fig­ures from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and thou­sands of mem­bers of the pub­lic have en­dorsed our de­mand for new rules to pro­tect coun­cil-run park­land.

Among the ex­am­ples of play­grounds be­ing dis­man­tled, re­de­vel­oped or al­lowed to fall into dis­re­pair, our in­ves­ti­ga­tion dis­cov­ered:

One de­signed for dis­abled chil­dren was van­dalised and is now due to be re­placed with hous­ing;

A £350,000 park is set to be de­mol­ished by a coun­cil that failed to main­tain it and which of­fi­cials now deem the play­ground too dan­ger­ous for use;

A play­ground serv­ing dozens of fam­i­lies was de­mol­ished be­cause of bud­get cuts;

A pop­u­lar fa­cil­ity was torn down af­ter the coun­cil manag­ing it claimed no one was will­ing to run it.

Labour MP Chris Leslie said: ‘If we con­tinue with this rate of de­cline, out­door play­grounds will be­come out of reach for the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren, which will make for a duller, less healthy child­hood for gen­er­a­tions to come. What does it say about our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties if to­gether we can­not pro­vide de­cent, safe play spa­ces for young­sters and their par­ents to meet friends, ex­plore and stay fit? The Gov­ern­ment needs to re­spond ur­gently to this lat­est data.’

The Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner, Anne Long­field, said: ‘This comes at a time when we have the least phys­i­cally ac­tive gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren ever and when our fo­cus should be en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren to play out, not play less.’

The fig­ures were ob­tained by the API us­ing free­dom of in­for­ma­tion rules. Coun­cils were asked how many play­grounds they had closed each year and how much they planned to spend on play ar­eas.

In ad­di­tion to clos­ing hun­dreds of sites, coun­cils ad­mit­ted they planned to de­crease spend­ing on play ar­eas by 44 per cent by 2020.

The damn­ing re­search found the av­er­age spend per coun­cil on play fa­cil­i­ties was just un­der £250,000 last year, but will slump to less than £140,000 in two years’ time.

The alarm­ing fore­cast will pile fur­ther pres­sure on the Gov­ern­ment to act to pro­tect our pre­cious parks and green spa­ces.

Mark Hardy, of the API, said: ‘Play is fun­da­men­tal to chil­dren and nec­es­sary for their healthy de­vel­op­ment. We need a clear show of sup­port for play and ac­tiv­ity from the Gov­ern­ment by in­vest­ing in play­grounds to halt the de­cline.

‘In many cases, once a play­ground is closed, it is lost for­ever. In the bat­tle against child­hood obe­sity and high rates of poor men­tal health, lo­cal play pro­vi­sion can im­prove a child’s ac­tiv­ity level and help tackle these and other is­sues.’

Tim Phillips, of the char­ity Fields In Trust, said: ‘Well-equipped and main­tained play­grounds are vi­tal in coun­ter­ing child­hood obe­sity.’

Child psy­chol­o­gist Dr Amanda Gum­mer warned: ‘Clos­ing play­grounds is dam­ag­ing chil­dren’s health by re­mov­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­tive, so­cial, free play, and it’s mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties less co­he­sive.’

Com­mu­ni­ties Sec­re­tary James Bro­ken­shire said: ‘Parks are the beat­ing heart of com­mu­ni­ties and I am clear they should be pro­tected. We have set up an ac­tion group to de­velop prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to the is­sues fac­ing our parks.’

SANC­TU­ARY: Claire Dainty’s son Samuel at the site be­fore its clo­sure LOCKED OUT: Claire Dainty and sup­port­ers at Old Fallings play­ground

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