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
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