Legal bid to shield play parks from cuts
THE SCOTTISH parliament is being urged to enshrine the protection of children’s play areas in law to prevent them being reduced by financial cutbacks.
PlayScotland, the agency charged with promoting the importance of play in childhood, has submitted a petition to MSPs asking for legislative change to force councils to provide “sufficient and satisfying” play areas throughout the country.
The agency argues that play areas help reduce the growing burden on the nation caused by childhood obesity by encouraging children to increase their physical activity.
But councils do not necessarily have to spend large sums on creating new facilities, PlayScotland says. Instead, school playgrounds could be made available during holidays while pavements could be widened and more restrictions placed on parking to open up more streets as play areas.
The agency also says that new thinking is needed about what constitutes a play area. Traditional playgrounds could be given a “natural” makeover that would cost less to equip and maintain.
PlayScotland has drawn up the petition following a survey that found that less than 1 per cent of all the “greenspace” in Scotland was devoted to children’s play areas and amid fears that even this provision will decline. It says more space has been given over to golf courses in recent years.
MSPs have now been asked to include a “Statutory Duty for Play” in a planned new children’s and young people bill at Holyrood.
The petition says local authorities should have a legal requirement to provide “quality” play spaces for all children and young people, allowing them to increase their physical activity and improve their health and wellbeing. “Child-friendly spaces can also promote social interaction and strengthen community spirit between children and adults, while making areas more desirable to live,” the petition adds.
Marguerite Hunter Blair, the chief executive of PlayScotland, said: “Provision of play areas is not a priority for local authorities across Scotland generally and because of these stricken times it’s fallen off the agenda because it’s not a statutory duty. If a statutory duty was placed on them, they could make it a priority.
She added: “It’s not necessarily about swings and roundabouts, equipment and maintenance, which is what costs local authorities lots of money. Traditionally, they [councils] think that’s what children want, but all the research tells us that actually they play on the equipment for about 10-15 minutes for the purpose it was designed. Then they play in and around it on their own games and activities. It’s more about introducing natural things in which kids want to play, such as big sandpits and more grass and trees.
“When you look there’s so much acreage going into golf courses and car parks and so little into play space. That’s why we would like to see school playgrounds open during the school holidays because a lot of children could go there and the parents would let them go there because it’s an enclosed space and one they’re familiar with.”
PlayScotland is being supported by Scottish Labour, whose children’s spokesman, Neil Bibby, said: “We also recognise that our local councils are facing attacks on their funding from both Alex Salmond in Edinburgh and David Cameron in Westminster.
“We therefore call for a right to play to be included in the Children and Young People Bill and for Alex Salmond to back this with improved funding for Scotland’s councils to ensure that all of Scotland’s children can access the play opportunities they need.”
Doctors also back safeguarding play areas to improve the health of children. At their annual conference last month, the British Medical Association called on local authorities to invest in maintaining outdoor spaces instead of selling them off to developers.
The Scottish Government said it was reluctant to change the law. “We don’t believe that placing a statutory duty through legislation is the most effective way of achieving a shift in attitudes towards play,” a spokesman said. “However, our clear priority is to work in partnership with local authorities and others with an interest to increase opportunities for children to play.”
Councillor Douglas Chapman, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities spokesman for education, children and young people, said councils are “acutely aware” of the importance of play to children’s development and aim to provide the “best possible play facilities they can”. But, he said, “placing a duty on a council to provide a certain type of play area might be restrictive”, adding that circumstances varied across the country and councils had to take on board the views of local children.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east