Parks experts fear knock-on impact after Government ditches Playbuilder scheme

The scrapping of the £235m Playbuilder scheme could cause more than just the loss of 1,300 new play areas, park experts have warned.

The scheme, which began in 2008, was designed to fund 3,500 play areas by 2011. But 132 local authorities have had grants frozen by the Government.

Parks Agency founder Stewart Harding said some new lottery-funded parks projects might fail because funding was tied into to the larger scheme: "This will impact on Heritage Lottery Fund projects where Playbuilder money is part of partnership funding," he added.

"The Government is so eager to cut that it is not properly researching the effects. If partnership funding is part of a larger scheme it puts it in jeopardy because councils that have embarked on projects have to find money elsewhere at a time when everything is getting difficult.

"Parks have been scrabbling around for external funding for years and Playbuilder was a welcome addition. But now we are going backwards.

"The result will be crappy playgrounds for kids with broken down equipment. It's a quality-of-life issue. In housing estates kids have nothing to occupy them so it's not surprising you get antisocial behaviour. This is about investing in the future."

A Sutcliffe Play representative said: "We have an international division as well and we sell to schools. Although it will have an effect, the funding was coming to an end anyway, so we were preparing for that. We have got things in place to help us move forward."

Nottingham City Council head of parks and open spaces Eddie Curry added: "It's fundamentally not going to affect the city council at all because all our funding was secured through the Play Pathfinder scheme, in advance of all the Playbuilder schemes, and we completed our schemes back in April.

"We're relieved about that but I know a number of my colleagues in nearby boroughs are very worried about the cuts and desperately trying to find other sources of funding. "Overall, it will have a massive effect on the quality of playgrounds in the country. It's a massive disappointment and it will have a real negative impact."

- In Carlisle, the council is planning to ask the community to raise £12,000 for nine pieces of equipment for a pensioner playground at Acredale Park after the Government withdrew Playbuilder funding of £53,000 for a children's area.

CASE STUDY: LONDON BOROUGH OF RICHMOND

In Richmond, 22 sites were originally granted funding through Playbuilder. Work on 11 of these sites was completed last year and now only one site is expected to be completed this year - Crane Park, Twickenham.

A council representative said: "We are going to hear late in August about the future of these. We have already started building in Crane Park and from our understanding of (education secretary) Michael Gove's letter, it's the projects that have not yet started that are being reviewed.

"We are always looking to improve our facilities for families and children but we have to be realistic about the current economic climate. The 10 sites at risk of not being developed are actually existing playgrounds."

Richmond councillor Christine Percival said: "While we would be disappointed if funding were to be cut, we have to be realistic. The economic climate means there just isn't the money for these types of projects."

SITES AT RISK

  •   Hatherop Park, Hampton
  •   Mortlake Green
  •   Chase Green, Whitton
  •   North Sheen Recreation Ground
  •   Bushy Park
  •   Richmond Park
  •   Moormead Recreation Ground, St Margaret's
  •   Vine Road Recreation Ground, Barnes
  •   Palewell Common and Fields, East Sheen
  •   Orleans Gardens, Twickenham

 

SECTOR RESPONDS TO SCRAPPING OF PLAYBUILDER SCHEME

Play equipment maker Wicksteed has called the proposed play facilities cuts "ludicrous". A representative said the cuts "could well be the final nail in the coffin for the future of our children's playgrounds in Britain".

He added: "This is surely a complete U-turn on the new Government's vision of a 'Big Society' and the emphasis on the importance of community.

"It has been proven over the past two years that investment in new and refurbished play areas brings communities together - through fundraising, consultation with children and parents and subsequent feedback on the use of the new play areas."

Wicksteed said the Government had broken its 18 May promise by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude: "We want society - the families, networks, neighbourhoods and communities that form the fabric of so much of our everyday lives - to be bigger and stronger than ever.

"Only when communities are given more power and responsibility can we achieve fairness and opportunity for all. Today heralds the end of Whitehall bureaucrats micro-managing public services - it's not efficient and it doesn't work. People know what is best for them and their community, and it is Government's job to make this happen."

Wicksteed has highlighted the Save the Playground campaign was set up by Emma Kane to earn a reprieve for her play area in Oxfordshire. It has gone from a regional to a national campaign over the past few weeks.

- For further details, visit www.savetheplayground.co.uk.


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