Thursday, 24 August 2017

Closure... coming to a park near you

Play parks are little havens of space and recreation set aside to allow people in urban developments to have a safe space for children to play. I admit I have never given it a lot of thought before... I have visited many, having brought up three children and now as a grandparent we are revisiting and discovering new ones. We moved last year and were pleased to see there was a small park behind our house-over the last ten months we have observed its use casually. Children of all ages, accompanied and unaccompanied have used the park at all times of the day and evening. No trouble or issues have arisen from what we have seen.

So it was with great surprise that we discovered a notice saying the park was closed by the council. Other parents were upset and astonished and the local paper covered the story. The reason given for closure was "health and safety". So apparently the park is unsafe. I am no expert on "h and s", but having worked with children I judge myself to alert to hazards and I can say the park does not pose any high risks from my observations. The safety floor is raising slightly in a couple of places and the equipment needs a lick of paint but other than that it appears sturdy.

Obviously, being a complete cynic I interpret this as a sure fire way to close anything-its hard to disprove and nobody wants litigation following accidents-but I believe its a calculated way of saving money. The council is in an unenviable situation. Its funding has been slashed and it must make cutbacks-however the public outcry would be so much louder if frontline services were cut-so its simpler to attack soft targets like parks.

However, there are underlying issues to this which need addressing. First, no public consultation was given. An edict was issued in council without any alternative solution, such as public donations, help from local businesses etc. In fact some councillors allege they didn't know about it at all.

Secondly -the children in the town require safe places to play-period!

Thirdly- these play parks are often part of a planning requirement when housing developments are initiated. However, after ten years the developer ceases to be responsible and it is passed to the council-who now are unable or unwilling to fund its maintenance. Now this seems to me a massive piece of hoodwinking. There is an obvious flaw in the planning policy which needs solving. What is the point of planning agreements if they are only temporary? It makes a mockery of the whole process. Its easy for the builder to offer a park to get the project off the ground-but then ten years on-they wash their hands completely-as apparently do the council. How many of us realised this? This requires a complete change in council planning policy!

Last week on my way to the abbey I passed the park next to Red River-part of the housing estate on Lesh Lane. Guess what? A massive padlock around the gate closing the park to the public ! No notice or information to the public-just an arbitrary closure.

So is this the thin end of the wedge? I would say yes. I have heard via a reliable source that these are the first of many closures! So residents of Barrow are you going to watch while your children's play areas disappear one by one? It IS happening before your eyes, by stealth and silence. Erroneous reasons are being used which is probably why nobody has been informed properly. What is the point of elected officials if they "didn't know anything about it" or are complicit in rubber stamping the edict of the paid officials in their quest to "save money". In the scheme of things, how much money will it actually save? Where will it end?

On my walk I also noticed the dilapidated state of the Greenway to the abbey. Gates removed or hanging off, litter in abundance, overgrown banks-yet the farm boundaries appear to have been renewed. How long will it be before this is closed too due to "health and safety"? My musing over this might be misplaced but the state of the path has degenerated over the last few months. On to Abbotswood- a remarkable place under the care of the council again. Although trees have been removed where unsafe the general state of some pathways and fencing is looking poor and again, the "h and s" spectre hangs heavily over this too. If play parks can close so swiftly and without consultation, what would stop this policy being extended to places like the woods? This is not a point of fact-merely my own musing... but it could happen- after all, a wood is not an essential service is it?

I hope there is a solution to this and while I condemn the council for this action, I do have a certain sympathy for them. Money is short and cutbacks have to be made-but surely we can be a little creative and innovative before we decide to remove the facilities which enhance the town. We talk about attracting new people to the town-this is never going to happen. The town is looking like a slum, knee deep in litter and weeds-the infrastructure is collapsing, shops are non-existent and rubbish removal is unreliable. Its time this changed before its too late 

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