Kirklees is already providing twice the number of children's play areas per head of population as Leeds and Bradford combined.
With 343 children's play areas comes a big maintenance cost - and Kirklees has been working for the last 2 years to determine how to provide the best facilities while also keeping control of the costs.
On 27th March the general outline was published in Kirklees Together while there's more information in the Kirklees website.
Unfortunately, since then there has been a degree of confusion about exactly what it all means.
Why Change The Children's Play Areas?
As usual, there's a fairly simple answer. The practical result of having so many play areas with mechanical equipment is that the cost of maintenance rises all the time as the equipment gets older.
Like all costs in the budget this has to be brought under control. And they can't just leave damaged equipment in place with the risk of physical injury to children and the financial risk of claims against the council.
Not only that, but for many historic play areas neither the location nor the play equipment was ever planned according to need resulting in a haphazard distribution. The result is that many of them are rarely used or have limited play value.
Play as part of Health & Wellbeing
At the same time the council is committed to a Health and Wellbeing strategy so they want to provide the maximum opportunities for play.
So to control the costs the mechanical equipment in some play areas will be replaced with natural features like boulders and logs that don't cost as much to maintain - while ensuring that all the play areas remain available.
The change to more natural features isn't just an arbitrary decision - check out the key findings of the consultation process below.
60% of respondents wanted more natural play areas.
The benefit of reducing maintenance costs in all play areas is that it releases money that can be spent on providing a better level of maintenance in those parks that keep their mechanical equipment.
That's certainly a change to many of the smaller play ares - but no play areas are being closed.
At the same time, more than half of all the parks will be improved with more and better equipment.
How Was This Decision Made?
The initial announcement was made by the Council on 27th March after 2 years of consultation on what parents and children wanted - see the extract from the Playable Spaces Strategy key findings in the box below. Follow the link to download the whole document.
Playable Spaces engagement: key findings
Then followed an analysis of how to provide equal opportunities for play for the maximum number of children. What was the population in an area and what was the demand?
3 Classifications of Play Area
The play areas are being identified into 3 classes: (definitions from the Playable Spaces Strategy)
It's not hard to see that the most visible short term change will be as the mechanical equipment is removed from Doorstep Playable Spaces, very probably the play area closest to your front door.
However, this is a change of design, not a closure. They'll be back shortly with the more natural, low cost design and play features as no children's play areas are being closed.
Are You Being Short Changed?
With changes taking place to local play areas, especially the 'Doorstep Playable Spaces', there are bound to be some who think they are getting the short end of the stick.
However, there's every indication that the Council has done it's best to ensure that play areas and equipment are distributed as fairly as possible.
Sites will be refurbished on a case-by-case basis, in conjunction with the local community, rather than applying a “one size fits all” solution, taking into consideration areas of deprivation, housing density, health inequalities and other local factors.
The Playable Spaces Strategy is not just about providing physical places to play but also about gaining a better understanding of what physical and social factors influence the ability to access play, and how the Council can enable equitable access to play throughout Kirklees
Extract from Playable Spaces Strategy
The end result is a network of children's play areas designed and distributed according to need with play areas available within 15 minutes walk for 90% of the population.
Have Your Say...
It's not all over yet.
What's been published so far is a general strategy. Keep your eye out for future engagement sessions when the council will be listening to residents concerns and ideas and improvements. They are promising to advertise these widely so make sure you stay connected.
The best way is to subscribe to Kirklees Together through the Council notifications page