Wandsworth Borough Council made a decision on 28 February at its Executive Committee to introduce a charge of £2.50 per child for entry to Battersea Adventure Playground. This was due to come into effect on 2 July 2011.
A letter before claim threatening to issue judicial review proceedings was sent on behalf of five families, arguing that the decision was unlawful: first on grounds that there was a failure to consult with local residents about the scheme; second that the council had failed to have regard to its equalities duties. Ms Saimo Chahal of Bindmans law firm argued that the initial Equality Impact Assessment was superficial, flawed and reaches conclusions which are unreasonable. Whilst the council recognise that 45% of users are from the BME community, the Equality Impact Assessment goes on to state that the charging is not expected to have any adverse impact on BME users. Third it was argued that the , the council have failed to have any regard to the fact that the parents and children who would be disadvantaged by the proposed charging were all from a socio economic group which could not afford to pay for the charges, whilst the council have proceeded on the basis that the proposal will not have any impact on lower income families. The conclusions were irrational. Finally, it was also argued that there was a lack of transparency in the procedure and processes involved in reaching the decision to charge for the Adventure Playground. The council were given until 4pm on 28 June to respond.
The council backs down
The council has responded, agreeing not to implement the pilot scheme on 2 July. Saimo Chahal, Partner at Bindmans LLP acting for the families said: “The council had pushed through this decision with a total disregard for the views of children and parents in the Borough. Their assessment of the impact of the charges was superficial and flawed, showing a complete lack of understanding about why the playground played such a pivotal role in the lives of children in the borough and why play is so important for the most deprived children in the borough. Furthermore the Council ignored evidence showing that in the borough 26% of children under 16 live in poverty and children in some age groups have a higher than average level of obesity. The decision verged on the irrational. I am very pleased indeed that the council has decided to review its decision and not to implement the charges. This is a very sensible decision.”
Local resident Sojourner Jones said: “Today’s decision by the council not to implement the charge to use the adventure playground at Battersea Park is without a doubt a victory for common sense. Whilst the £2.50 the council intended to charge is less than many pay for a coffee in a trendy café bar, for many families in the borough, with two, three or four children it would have meant the difference between a summer spent cooped up indoors and one spent out in the fresh air. Whilst I fully appreciate local authorities such as ours have to make cuts in line with government directives, I am really pleased that my council has decided that taxing children to play would have been a step too far.”
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