Review of Play Provision: To consider the findings of an assessment of play areas in Monmouthshire and consider the way forward
- Meeting of Children and Young People Select Committee, Tuesday, 8th December, 2020 10.00 am (Item 3.)
Officers Mike Moran presented the report and answered the members’ questions, with additional responses from Matthew Lewis.
Clearly, there is a lack of resources for keeping play equipment up to scratch. Learning and mixing among pre-school children will be lost with the end of traditional playgrounds, disadvantaging the children as they grow up. It will be a very sad day when alternative uses are implemented.
We don’t think the situation is quite as bad as that. There has been some frustration over the years at the lack of a dedicated play budget but the officers see this as a positive way forward because it means we can attract funding to put into those play areas that will remain. Taking Monmouth as an example, we aren’t talking about taking out play areas, but a rationalisation process so that we do have good quality neighbourhood play areas with equipment made from sustainable hardwoods, with a much higher educational value than some of the current equipment.
At last year’s Playmaker conference, we asked the year 5 children if they would prefer to play on a fixed space or a green area: the vast majority said they would prefer a green space. We are talking about reducing the number we have and investing in those that remain to make them much better. Many of the areas we inherited in 1996 and 1974 from the predecessor authorities were in a bad state even then. These tend to be on former local authority housing estates – we aren’t proposing the removal of these play areas, but investing money to make them better places for children to play, and bringing in sensory planting and landscape features as research shows that these help to encourage autistic children to participate in play. We’re trying to link nature with play.
In terms of finance, we are going to spend £110k on the new Chippenham play area, last year we spent £86k in Wyesham, and this year we have accessed another £70k to invest. So this is about having a plan so that when resources become available we can apply for them, and once we have reported on the outcome of the Monmouth pilot we are hopeful that Welsh Government will realise that we’re trying to benefit the less well off in our 4 main towns.
Yes, it’s very sad to discuss this in the context of a lack of funding. I worry about what we will do with green spaces – these might be requested by year 5 children but what about swings etc. for younger ones?
This is about looking at play through a different lens. It is not to diminish the value of fixed play areas. We have perhaps fallen into the trap in recent years of not creating playable environments in a wider sense. So we are looking at what the value can be of both fixed play and the wider environment, which is perhaps more varied and has opportunities for wild play. We are also approaching this through the lens of ‘Play Value’, which is a relatively recent concept: in the past, a play area was assessed on whether it had a slide and swing, but there is now a lot of science around the wider value those facilities give to children. There are wider challenges but the focus is more quality rather than quantity, and we’re looking to try that in the real world and see where it takes us.
Would it not be better to look at play areas during the planning stage of the estates?
The point about new developments is very important. We do intervene at the planning stage. When the Wonastow estate was developed at Monmouth, using the 6-acre standard 4 play areas would have been needed – we said to the developer that this would be too many and asked if instead they could install 2 or 3 and use the remaining funding to improve existing areas. Although the site manager thought this was a very good idea, the company directors wanted to be able to say they had paid for the new areas. Getting involved at the planning stage to ensure new areas are built but also secure funding for existing areas would be the ideal scenario.
How will the open space areas be maintained? Will local communities and volunteers play a role?
One of the reasons for suggesting the pilot in Monmouth is that there is a group there called Action on Climate Emergency, and Friends groups for local play areas. We anticipate a strong input from the voluntary sector and those organisations.
Does consultation at a local level feature?
We wouldn’t seek to do anything without full consultation, the first people we would speak to town councils. They have previously been very supportive. If we can put the argument to them in the right way, they might be willing to contribute to some of the proposals we put forward.
Could you ask for the 2 open space areas to also have a 20-year maintenance? It might be less radical for the developers than 40-year maintenance on 2 standard play areas?
We also ask a community to maintain the green open spaces on estates as well. It’s only for 20 years. We would have to consult with legal as to whether we could specify a longer period. We would certainly be in favour of that. We’ve worked on retaining open spaces in the county, establishing more protected fields than probably any other authority in Wales – we’re up to 24 now. Open spaces are becoming more precious now given the pressure from residential developments.
We understand that there might be reticence to close some play areas but we aren’t talking about reducing a huge amount. If we reduce across the county 20 or 25 out of 110, and replace them with really good quality play areas that do offer a high level of play value, it wouldn’t mean estates going without a play area, it would just mean that the remaining play areas are in good condition, and we have better facilities to maintain them into the future.
As a town and county councillor, I feel reasonably optimistic about this report. Some areas will be closed, but others will be raised to a much higher standard. The overall wish of the committee is for good play provision across the authority, and that all children have fairly close provision. Some members are concerned about the cut in play provision due to austerity. Councillor Powell feels more optimistic, noting that green spaces are good for encouraging children to use their imaginations for play, while agreeing that developers should give their play budget to the council to make a better playground for all ages, rather than putting in a small playground themselves, which is only suitable for toddlers. Councillor Brown raised important issues about play at the planning stage, including the effect that small gardens have on the need for plentiful play provision.
We accept this report but will monitor the matter closely and look for very good play provision in the areas where it remains. We certainly hope there will not be a large cut in the number of areas.
- Document To Follow
- Play Value Report 081220 v2 - 191120, item 3. PDF 809 KB
- Fixed Play EQIA 271120, item 3. PDF 367 KB