One in six Bath and North East Somerset Council-owned play areas could be scrapped and turned into community gardens, wildflower meadows or allotments in a bid to cut costs.
The authority spends up to £400,000 a year replacing play equipment but says it is “not practical” to provide new kit at 10 sites where there are better facilities nearby.
The play areas in Bath that will be affected are Burnt House Road, Calton Road, Loxton Drive, Parry Close and St Saviours.
The equipment in Chalfield in Keynsham, Hillside Crescent in Midsomer Norton, Kilmersdon Road in Haydon and Manor Copse in Writhlington is also set to be scrapped.
Labour group leader Councillor Robin Moss said: “The idea that our very youngest residents should have to bear the brunt of Council cuts is completely unacceptable.
“The closure of children’s playgrounds wasn’t in the Lib Dem manifesto and I don’t think it is something that voters would have supported when they went to the polls in May.
“The Lib Dems promised the electorate that they would listen to residents’ concerns.
“Today they have the chance to demonstrate they are doing just that – by scrapping these plans and ensuring they invest properly in safe places for children to play.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Paul Myers said he was “shocked and disappointed at the decision, and his party had ruled out a similar move to ensure all children have an outdoor space to play in.
He said: “It really goes to show where this new council’s priorities lie when they can waste money on expensive air conditioning units and a pointless re-examination of the clean air zone whilst trying to sneak through shameful cuts to our children’s facilities.
“It only makes us question what they intend to do next and whether they might just cash in and sell off our parks altogether?
“Rest assured, we will fight to protect these precious facilities and urge local residents to voice their concerns about this unacceptable backdoor cut.”
A sign posted in the Loxton Drive play area says the equipment is nearing the end of its life and needs to be removed over the winter.
It says: “The council has done a comprehensive review of all of its play spaces and has found that in this area there is a duplication in the provision of formal play areas.
“We are keen to diversify the leisure offer in our green spaces and provide more sociable and playful landscapes not reliant on fixed play equipment, and there are a range of alternatives to formal play equipment which are suited to this location.”
B&NES Council’s website says the play equipment will be removed and replaced with a community garden or benches, or the fence goes and a tree will be planted.
Councillor Paul Crossley, cabinet member for community services, said: “This year, we are investing in play areas like Innox Park, Sandpits Play Area in Monksdale Road, Shakespeare Road in Westfield and in new, accessible, facilities at Alexandra Park.
“A review has shown that we have duplication in provision in some places, and so we are looking to take out play equipment in 10 parks and re-landscape them so they are spaces that encourage people of all ages to use and enjoy.
“We are now asking the public along to a series of information sessions at each of the 10 areas to share their ideas for how the areas can be re-landscaped to ensure these valuable public spaces are attractive and welcoming to everyone using them.
“Ideas for some include creating a community garden, replanting to improve the biodiversity of sites and planting more trees and wildflowers.”
All of B&NES Council’s play areas are inspected and maintained on a weekly, quarterly and annual basis.
Very well used play areas are inspected daily, others two or three times a week – but budget cuts mean there is less funding available for maintenance, and the number of inspectors has dropped from three to two, so non-essential repairs have been delayed.
The council says reducing the frequency of inspections would increase the risk to an unacceptable level.
The play area review looked at the quality and range of facilities at each site, and the deprivation in the area.
It found duplication – some residents have more than one play area within 580 metres from their home.
The council’s website says: “The parks team have identified ten sites which scored poorly in the review where there is a strong justification for removal because of duplication with a nearby site, where equipment is old/end of life or regularly suffers from anti-social behaviour and where the site does not score highly in the indices of multiple deprivation.
“Scoring play areas against each of these criteria ensures that we can be confident that areas most in need are protected.”
It adds: “While it’s not practical for the council to continue to provide formal play equipment at these sites, there is scope to shape the design and function of the spaces and we are keen to hear more about how the spaces can best serve the needs of all of the community that live in the area.
“There will be an opportunity to share ideas at the feedback sessions and at a follow-up session in October/November. To find out more, look out for signs in the park or open space.
“Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or telephone 01225 39 40 41.”
The full proposals include:
Burnt House Road, Bath
Remove the play equipment as there is better provision at nearby Sulis Meadows play area and replace the play area with grass and flowering trees.
Residents are invited to a feedback session from 3.30pm to 5pm on 17th September.
Calton Road, Bath
Remove formal play equipment as there is better provision at nearby Widcombe and Alexandra Park play areas and create a woodland seating area as a welcome stop-off before the climb through Beechen Cliff.
Feedback session was on 2nd September.
Loxton Drive, Bath
Remove play equipment and replace with community garden or benches; or remove the fence and plant a tree.
Feedback session from 3.30pm to 5pm on 13th September.
Parry Close Play Area, Bath
Remove the formal play equipment as there are play areas nearby at Hillcrest, Rosewarn and Brickfields and re-landscape with wildflowers or trees or creating a social space.
Feedback session was on 6th September.
St Saviours Play Area, Bath
Remove formal play equipment as there is better provision at nearby Alice Park and Larkhall Recs and plants trees and/or wildflowers to improve the landscape and biodiversity of the site.
Feedback session was on 3rd September.
Burchill Close, Clutton
Remove the play equipment as there is more comprehensive provision at nearby Venus Lane and re-landscape the area to grass and trees.
Kilmersdon Road, Haydon
Replace equipment with grass/trees/wildflowers to brighten up the space.
Feedback session from 3.30pm to 5pm on 12th September.
Chalfield Play Area, Keynsham
Re-landscape the area with wildflowers or trees or create a natural play or social space.
Feedback session from 3.30pm to 5pm on 11th September.
Hillside Crescent, Midsomer Norton
Remove play area and create a new community garden or allotments.
Feedback session from 3.30pm to 5pm on 20th September.
Manor Copse, Writhlington
Remove formal play equipment and explore the scope for creating a community garden or social space.
Feedback session from 3.30pm to 5pm 18th September.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter