How review and investment of BCP's 120 play areas is taking shape

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Play park facilitiies

IDEAS for play parks across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be taken into account before changes are made.

A public consultation is being planned, possibly from July to September, with a new strategy likely to be approved early in 2023.

BCP Council members have been told that many of the 120 play areas are in need of investment and a ‘refresh’ in ideas to make them more accessible.

The authority says it is also keen to make them more inclusive – including for adults – without younger children feeling they are being pushed out.

Cllr Chris Rigby said he would welcome areas which adults could use with research showing that  ‘play’ for grown ups was beneficial for mental health.

Other issues which need tackling are vandalism and anti-social behaviour with some evidence that much of the damage is caused by a small group, or even individuals, moving from park to park.

The council has around 120 play areas, in different shapes and sizes – 60 in Bournemouth, 44 in Poole, 15 in Christchurch and 11 across the area which are designed for BMX, cyclo-cross, skateboard, skates or are natural play and fitness trails, or even outdoor gyms.

The review will look at whether the right park is in the right place and where new facilities might be needed, although the council has reaffirmed that it is committed to small, local parks, where people can walk from their home.

It will also review insurance arrangements with some parks still under the agreements of previous councils which means that a piece of vandalised equipment might be able to be replaced under the policy in one area, but not another.

Project leader for environmental service Martin Whitchurch  told the council’s place overview and scrutiny committee that the review would look at planned replacement of equipment, whether maintenance budgets are adequate and where replacement equipment could be sourced.

He said that in recent years replacement items from Europe had become more difficult to obtain, a situation he thought was likely to continue, and which may be resolved by turning to local manufacturers.

He said that to provide a new, small play area could cost £60,000; a larger one £145,000 and a ‘destination” play area £220,000.

Cabinet member Cllr Mohan Iyengar said the beauty of many of the parks was that they offered a chance for positive health and wellbeing close to home and were free of charge.

“The ethos behind this has been, and will be, to protect and enhance all of these play areas as neighbourhood areas as well as the big areas,” he said, promising that the council would also look at making the areas more accessible to all.

Cllr Vikki Slade called for suitable spaces to be found for teenage girls, who often say there is nothing to suit them and leaves them feeling excluded.

“They need spaces where there feel safe and secure,” she said.

Cllr Slade also questioned why so many items of equipment were failing safety inspections and then had to be removed. She added: “It begs the question about lifespan and lack of investment year on year.”

She said that the current maintenance budget of around £1,000 per year for each play area was inadequate and would need to be increased and called for the differing insurance arrangements to be improved.

Mr Whitchurch said that CCTV had been considered for some areas although was technically difficult on some sites because of a lack of power and suitable place to fix a camera.

He said that evidence so far was that it was of limited use.

“CCTV is a small deterrent, there are a lot of cases where it just doesn’t make any difference –  they put the hoodies up and the balaclavas on and the CCTV just doesn’t make a difference to the people undertaking those acts,” he said.