Government ‘just paying lip-service’ to alarming decline in parks and playgrounds

The Mail on Sunday’s Save Our Parks petition now has over 16,000 signatures and, as it has reached the 10k signature mark, has received a response from the Government.  Mark Hardy, Chair of the Association of Play Industries, comments: “On the whole, the response from Government appears to fly in the face of the evidence and deny the problem of dwindling parks, playgrounds and green spaces exists.

“And yet, despite their 25 Year Environment Plan, Pocket Parks Programme and various examples of central government investment cited in the response, research shows a marked decline in these spaces.

“Our own Nowhere To Play research shows that the decline in the number of playgrounds across England is going into freefall.  At a time when the Government claims to be implementing measures to tackle childhood obesity and mounting mental health problems amongst young people, I fear that they are just paying lip-service to the issue and not facing the facts.”

In April 2017, the Association of Play Industries Nowhere to Play report first uncovered the state of playground decline in England, revealing the closure of hundreds of playgrounds.  Using the Freedom of Information Act, the API has once again asked local authorities to disclose current and planned playground closures and found:

  • By 2020/21 there will have been a decrease in spend on play facilities of 44% since 2017/18
  • In 2016/17 local authorities closed 63 playgrounds and in 2017/18 a further 70 playgrounds have been closed.
  • Since 2014 local authorities have closed a total of 347 playgrounds across England.
  • There will be a decrease in spend on playgrounds of over £13m each year on average across England.
  • Local authorities estimate a decrease in their spending on playgrounds of £25m by 2021.

“We appreciate the intense budgetary constraints local authorities face and support the government’s intentions to collaborate with them to preserve and build parks and playgrounds,” says Mark.  “We also support the idea that local authorities are best placed to make decisions using their intimate knowledge of their local areas.

“However, this is to simplify a much more complex situation. The narrative goes that cash-strapped councils, faced with growing homelessness for instance, have no other option other than to re-direct their limited funds and resources into new housing.  But there is growing evidence that authorities aren’t making black and white choices like this at all, choosing instead to invest their shrinking funds into projects that many certainly wouldn’t consider a priority.

“Furthermore, as regards the (undeniable) need for new homes to alleviate the housing crisis, authorities are failing to exploit other, more imaginative solutions. Thousands of houses across the UK lie empty, for example, many uninhabited for years and falling into disrepair.  Calls for councils to take steps to bring these properties back into use go largely ignored, with LAs preferring to sell off our valuable parklands and playgrounds and build new homes on them instead.

“This willingness on the part of local government – to sacrifice these spaces, probably forever – is based on the false belief that parks are somehow a luxury we can’t afford. All recent research points to the exact opposite – that parks, playgrounds and green spaces are absolutely vital to our physical and mental health and are pivotal in creating and uniting communities.

“Something we all took for granted – safe, local and free spaces in which to play – is disappearing. This latest research shows a very worrying picture indeed and, unless action is taken now, it seems we are in danger of losing playgrounds.  Let’s not forget that when a playground is neglected and closed it is often lost forever.

“The decline in playgrounds urgently needs to shift up the government’s priority list.  It is a false economy to allow them to disappear when they are a key weapon in the fight against childhood obesity and mental ill-health which, if allowed to continue as is, will end up costing us all far more than we bargained for.”

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