Labour and Tory Councillors have approved plans to modernise and refurbish the adventure playground in Battersea Park with brand new equipment and keep play free.
The decision, taken on Wednesday, will now be subject to public consultation. If backed by residents it would mean the playground does not need to introduce an admission charge – and would remain free to use. Councillors want to spend £200,000 on providing modern new equipment for the playground, which would conform to all the latest safety standards.
This would replace the playground’s existing wooden play structures and mean that staff would no longer be needed to supervise activities. The plans would allow the playground to remain open for longer than is currently possible. It would be available for use at all times the park is open, seven days a week.
In a radio interview for Radio London Cllr. Leonie Cooper, Labour’s GLA Candidate for Wandsworth and Merton also got a promise that all Wandsworth’s playgrounds will stay free. But Labour continues to have concerns about safety and loss of jobs, so any future proposals will be scrutinised for their impact on these two vital aspects of the service. Cllr. Andy Gibbons said ‘We are pleased the adventure playground will stay free, but we believe there is a role for professional staff in ensuring children play safely.’
By our man in Battersea Park
Wednesday seemed like the perfect day to go to Battersea Park to continue our ‘No pay to play’ campaign. It was national ‘Playday’ – a celebration of the child’s right to play – so what better time to remind everybody that the Tory council in Wandsworth are still hell-bent on charging children £2.50 to use the adventure playground in the park. It was of course an added bonus for us that the council’s Play and Community Services department (the very people trying to charge the children and certainly a department in the running for hypocrites of the year award) had arranged an event right next to the adventure playground in honour of the day.
The morning got off to a wonderful start and with the sun beaming, posters printed, flyers made, petitions on clipboards, drinks and snacks ready, Jack and I set off to the park (poor young Jack carrying the pasting table full of posters and flyers all the way there…and back). We arrived just before twelve midday, I went to the Parks Office (I had been advised to do this) to let them know we were there and what we planned on doing, the lovely lady there said it was fine so we set up our beautiful stall.
Unfortunately, the people from the council weren’t too pleased about this, Kathy Tracey – Cabinet Member for Education – was due any minute and they felt it wasn’t really the look they were going for, so they decided the best course of action was to call the police. In fact not only did they call the police but they told them there was a ‘group protest’ taking place without stating any numbers. Next thing we knew three police cars turned up and they had us surrounded… I explained to them they were just in time as we were about to start kicking bins over!
After what was a lot of fussing I am now the proud owner of a Wandsworth Parks Constabulary Bye-laws Handbook, which basically points out that you cannot to anything, and I mean anything, for example “no person shall….take part in any public assemblage in any park, garden or open space” – which seems a little unfair, no more family picnics I’m afraid! Also “no person shall… enter in to any public discussion or cause” and “no person shall distribute any bill, placard, or other printed or written matter” – I’m afraid with their mighty bye-laws handbook they had us beat. But we weren’t going to let that stop us; there is certainly nothing about what you can wear…
By this point a couple of the Women of Wandsworth mums had joined us, we were forced to take down the table and pack up but then the police left so we all put posters on our backs, and engaged in public discussion (i.e. we went round collecting signatures pointing at Kathy Tracey, saying it was all her fault and they called the police on us for trying to demonstrate) Everybody was on our side, we got over 100 signatures and really got up some noses, so all in all a good day I’d say – we were just lucky to get out of there without being kettled!
For more information on ‘No pay to play’ please visit http://wesaynopay2play.com
Playday is holding a playday tomorrow – next to the Battersea Park Adventure Playground, for which the Council may still start charging children to play on the equipment. Playday is a celebration of children’s right to play, and a campaign that highlights the importance of play in children’s lives.
The event is taking place at Battersea Park ( adjacent to the adventure playground) from 12noon until 4pm. The Mayor will be visiting about 1pm. The Council says ‘The event is specifically to celebrate play and its benefits and to encourage parents and carers and children to play together.’
On offer is a range of traditional games and activities encouraging healthy competition between spots and stripes delivered by Groundwork, e.g. sack races, tug-o-war, egg and spoon races and lots more.
- Stilt walking and balloon crafting/magic show and dancing competition by Bertie and Boo
- Circus Skills – Press Play
- Balloon crafting – Lord Geoffrey the Balloon Man
- Healthy Eating Workshop – Mange Tout
- Drumming workshop
- Face painting
- Parachute games
- Long rope skipping
- Arts and crafts -(handprint a giant Playday logo!)
- Multi sport activities
Despite a retreat last week over charges for children to use Battersea Park Adventure Playground, the plans are not dead yet. In an interview with the Wandsworth Guardian Kathy Tracey, the council’s children’s services spokeswoman, said the Tories may still introduce a fee to use the specialist playground.
She said a survey will be carried out over the summer months asking users what cost-cutting measures they approved of, before a report is published in November. Coun Tracey added that one possible way to save cash would be to remove some of the more expensive equipment, which needs staffing. She added: “If they want to maintain the sort of provision that’s there, we have to find a mechanism for charging for it.”
Labour’s Cllr. Andy Gibbons said ‘Coming just days before the Thamesfield by-election the Tories’ announcement of a retreat on playground charges now looks like a cynical attempt to hide an unpopular and damaging policy, only to bring it back later. We must keep the pressure up to make sure that these proposals are ruled out completely.’
Read the full story here:
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.”
Read the Evening Standard’s story here:
On Tuesday night at the Town Hall Councillors heard a heartfelt plea from a local mother describing the effect of the £2.50 charge for the use of Battersea Park Adventure Playground on her child and other local families, especially those on low incomes.
Despite more than 1000 signatories against the pilot scheme and a deputation of local mothers at Tuesday night’s Education and Children’s Services OSC, the Tories refused to reconsider the decision to start the pilot to charge for the use of the Playground, so the £2.50 charge will start on July 2nd.
Labour councillor Simon Hogg addressed the committee on behalf of the petitioners against the plans: “Collecting the signatures was straightforward. We haven’t had to spin the issue: it is fully understood and wildly unpopular’ People who would not normally talk to us have literally crossed the road to sign – including at least one Tory councillor’s wife.”
Opposition Speaker on the committee, Labour councillor Wendy Speck gave the case for the Health and Education benefits of the Adventure Playground and its uniqueness in providing a space to develop a variety of learning skills and promote good health. She ‘The pilot to charge for the use of the park is depriving the most vulnerable in the area from taking up these opportunities and restricting it to those who can afford to pay. It is a special setting which provides an adventurous experience where fears are overcome, potential realised, talent discovered through play opportunities.’
‘Battersea Adventure Playground has had free access since its start and there must be other ways of securing its future, including increasing charges for corporate users of the park like bankers JP Morgan Chase, The Independent Schools’ Show and The Designer Wedding Show.’
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/