Fears play areas could be lost in funding squeeze

An artist's impression of the play area planned for the waterfront
Stockton councillors raised concerns about the financial impact of a play area part of the new waterfront scheme [Stockton Council]

Some play areas will have to be “removed or repurposed” to save money, a council has warned.

Stockton Borough councillors said the authority cannot maintain all of 49 sites and it was "not sustainable" to keep them all open.

They also called for more detail on the long-term maintenance of a landmark waterfront park, and how it would affect other play areas.

The council's crime and disorder select committee has found a “growing inequality" of provision” across the area since the last significant investment in 2008.

It found there was a £60,000 budget shortfall for inspection and maintenance of Stockton’s 49 public play areas and 20 informal sports facilities, reports the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents assessed 39 of the sites and found only four were scored at least “good”, with nine rated at least “average”.

Play equipment had a worst-case life expectancy of three to eight years in 10 play spaces.

'Financial challenges'

Councillors recommended Stockton Council draws up plans to remove or repurpose some sites to reduce financial pressure, and they want an outdoor play strategy to be published.

They also want the authority to find out how much it will cost to revive or remove play areas which need urgent attention.

Councillors referred to the high-profile Stockton Waterfront urban park scheme, expected to open in 2026, which will connect the High Street to the Tees with a large-scale play area and amphitheatre.

They said there had been assurances that long-term costs would be picked up by council budgets.

But the report said the committee was still concerned about this.

“The committee remain concerned that, since Stockton Borough Council was not in a position to maintain what it already had (with local authority funding likely to get even tighter), this would further compound financial challenges which may have potential implications for other existing provision across the borough."

The committee recommended that the council supports existing play areas before any new ones are approved and encourages more “community ownership”.

They suggested of approaching town councils or businesses for support, and possible steps to tackle areas with little or no outdoor play.

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