API warns Government cuts ignore children's health needs

Government policymakers are failing to recognise that play can help fight childhood obesity as playground spend falls, the Association of Play Industries has warned.

According to latest figures from the association’s member companies, UK order values for playgrounds and play equipment fell by six per cent between the second and third quarters of 2014, from £43.8 million in the second quarter to £41m in the third. 

Total order values in the first nine months of 2014 were £128.1m compared to £128.8m at the same point last year, a drop of 0.5 per cent. 

The Association of Play Industries (API) blames the play market downturn on financial pressures in the local authority sector, traditionally the UK’s biggest play buying market. 

Play suppliers have been buoyed by an extra £18m of National Lottery funding from Sport England to improve the outdoor facilities of 600 primary schools across England. Many API members have won installation contracts and while this has yet to make an impact, it may lead to a better year-end outcome.

Total order values for API member companies in 2014 are set to be £164m. This is a one per cent increase on 2013 levels (£162m) but is 17 per cent below the 2010 market peak of £198m when political support for play was at its highest. 

API chair Michael Hoenigmann said: "There has never been a greater need to increase children’s activity levels, yet the UK play market faces significant challenges from constrained local authority budgets and a lack of political will. 

"Today’s children will live shorter lives than their parents unless we tackle obesity and sedentary lifestyles. It’s time for policymakers to acknowledge that investment in well-designed, high-quality public play provision will bring long-term health, economic and societal benefits. This is about more than swings and roundabouts, it’s about our children’s future."

Hoenigmann is managing director of Proludic, which surveyed visitors to two parks where it had installed play equipment earlier this year - Meriden Park in Watford and Mill Park in Bracknell.

The research found 58 per cent of people said the improvements meant it was now more likely they would visit the park for play or exercise and 71 per cent of people increased the length of time spent playing or exercising in the park. The company also posted a video of another scheme, Central Park, Romford on Vimeo.

One area where the API does expect to see market growth in 2015 is from commercial play buyers looking to attract more families, such as hospitality and tourism businesses.    

The API is the lead trade body within the UK play sector, representing approximately 85 per cent of UK play industry companies including manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. 

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