English councils close 112 playgrounds in one year, Association of Play Industries reveals

The Association of Play Industries has quantified concerns previously voiced in the parks sector, after a Freedom of Information request revealed that hundreds of children's playgrounds were being closed.

One of the neglected playgrounds featured in Nowhere to Play. Image: API
One of the neglected playgrounds featured in Nowhere to Play. Image: API

In its report Nowhere to Play published today, the membership organisation for play equipment manufacturers, suppliers and installers found that in 2014/15 112 playgrounds were closed and in 2015/16 102 were shut across England.

When asked about future plans English councils said they intended to close a further 80 in the current financial year. The two thirds of councils which had finalised plans for the next two financial years said they planned to close 103 playgrounds in 2017/18 and 51 in 2018/19.

The report adds that a third of councils had removed some of their play provision since 2010 and that several councils are not reporting closing their playgrounds but are looking to the community to maintain them.

The issue of councils not being able to afford to maintain playgrounds safely came up in the Communities and Local Government Committee parks inquiry last year. Local authority representatives giving evidence on 14 November were asked about playground safety by Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow Rushanara Ali, whose constituent Alexia Walenkaki died after poorly-maintained play equipment in Mile End Park collapsed on her.

Birmingham Council’s cabinet member for clean streets, recycling and environment Lisa Trickett said it was "a major concern" and revealed that Birmingham was considering the "phased withdrawal" from some play areas, "because we do not have the money to reinvest in that play equipment, nor do we have the money to maintain them".

Stockport green space manager Ian Walmsley revealed it had already lost play equipment because of funding cuts. It replaced swings and roundabouts with grass lumps and boulders as they do not fall under British standards for play equipment.

Nowhere to Play estimates that £100 million could reverse the decline and get the country’s back on track to start building new playgrounds. It also called on the Government to re-instate Big Lottery support for play facilities.

API chairman Mark Hardy said: "With increasing childhood obesity and the health benefits of activity and play well known, now is not the time for community playgrounds to be closing. This action goes against the Government’s clear intention to get children more active and needs to be stopped as quickly as possible. Our survey revealed a 37% cut in Government funding to local authorities."

"We know that money is tight for councils across the country, but we can’t just stand by and watch as children's playgrounds close. We are calling on the Government to halt this decline and invest in the next wave of playgrounds to ensure our children have access to free play and activity."

A number of organisations have backed the API’s call for more playgrounds.

Chairman of the Local Government Association Lord Porter,  backed the report saying that councils recognise that access to playgrounds and sports facilities are an important part of promoting healthy lifestyles to young poeple.

"They want to do everything they can keep our parks and playgrounds intact but are doing this in the face of unprecedented budget constraints. Given on-going funding reductions, many councils continue to have to make difficult decisions about which services are scaled back or stopped altogether.

"Decisions like this are never taken lightly and councils are exploring new ways to fund and maintain these facilities. Many are also working with their communities to help maintain them, or through crowdfunding for new equipment."

BALI chief executive Wayne Grills called the loss of playgrounds up and down the country "unforgivable".

Child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of Fundamentally Children, said reduction of play facilities was short-sighted and detrimental to the development of future generations.  

"Outside play is a vital component of a balanced play diet - it’s like the fruit and veg of a nutritional diet- very difficult to get too much of."

Chief Executive of Fields in Trust Helen Griffiths said: "Play is the first step children take towards physical literacy and an active lifestyle and therefore investing in play spaces and securing their future should be a priority in combating the negative health impacts of a sedentary population." She said that it was important to re-value parks and playgrounds for the "enormous contribution they make to our communities".

API members represent approximately 85% of UK play industry companies with a £166.8 million turnover in 2014 -  manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of both indoor and outdoor children’s play equipment and play area surfacing.

It operates under the umbrella of the Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA), the national trade body responsible for representing 14 Associations in the UK’s sport and play industries

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