Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has told the House of Commons he believes all playgrounds should be free – piling pressure on Conservative-led Wandsworth Council to back down from its plans to charge children, as young as eight years old, to use Battersea Park’s Adventure Playground.
Responding to a question asked by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Gove said: “We want to make sure children can have the opportunity to play and enjoy play without fees or bureaucracy getting in the way. “It is one of the responsibilities of local authorities to ensure children have an opportunity to play freely.” Mr Gove’s comments are in stark contrast to the decision by Conservative-run Wandsworth Council to start charging children £2.50 to use Battersea Park Adventure playground this autumn – a policy which is being trialled with a view to charging at play areas across the Borough in 2012.
At the weekend, hundreds of protesters – led by London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone – demonstrated their anger at the policy, by participating in a ‘play-in’ at the Battersea Park playground. Protesters were joined by Wandsworth Labour Group leader Councillor Rex Osborn, Tooting MP and shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, as well as local residents including actress Prunella Scales and artist Brian Barnes MBE. Commenting on Mr Gove’s comments, Cllr Osborn said: “It’s time for the Wandsworth Tories to back down from this ill-advised policy.
Not only are local residents appalled at the idea their children should have to pay to play, but the Government’s Secretary of State for Education has also now come out in public support of the right of children to play for free. “Britain’s parks and playgrounds should be free and accessible to all – and must not become yet another service from which struggling and hard pressed families are excluded. Over the last year, Wandsworth Council has already removed the right of children to swim for free in the Borough. Now they are trying to impose a tax on their playgrounds as well.”
Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate for London Mayor who was at the ‘play-in’ on Saturday, said: “Only the Conservatives could consider charging kids to play. I’m deeply concerned at this attempt to turn publicly funded playgrounds into areas which only the rich and privileged can enjoy. Wandsworth’s Council’s plans were tabled by outgoing leader Edward Lister, who has been appointed Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor and chief of staff. Mr Livingstone added: “This appalling proposal will reinforce fears he’ll be driving through a hard-right agenda at City Hall.”
For more read the story here: http://www.wandsworthguardian.co.uk/news/9045690.Education_Secretary_calls_for_playgrounds_to_be_free/