Campaigners' anger after Battersea Park adventure playground charge returns "via back door"
1:40pm Friday 15th February 2013 in News
The “pay for play” debate has erupted again after Wandsworth Council unveiled plans to charge children to use new Battersea Park adventure playground equipment.
Standard equipment such as chain ladders and rope swings will continue to be free but, according to a council paper, new apparatus such as aerial walkways or climbing walls would be subject to a charge.
Only a fortnight earlier the council tore down play equipment deemed too adventurous in the park following a decision in 2012 to sack play supervisers.
The size of the section of playground allotted to “chargeable” play areas is as yet unknown, according to the council.
In 2011, parents and campaigners were outraged after the council controversially announced it was planning to charge a £2.50 entry fee for Battersea Park adventure playground.
But just days before the trial was due to begin, and following pressure from campaigners and condemnation from Education Secretary Michael Gove, the council performed a dramatic u-turn and backed down.
Jane Eades, who has worked tirelessly against the idea, has described the council’s tactics as “bringing back ‘pay for play’ through the back door”.
She said: “I think it is immoral to be charging in a way that is going to discriminate against low income taxpayers.”
Councillor Kathy Tracey, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, deflected criticisms that the council had taken the “adventure” out of the borough’s adventure playgrounds.
She said “It is an added bonus. The replacement equipment has been adventurous all along.
“We are spending over £200,000 in putting in new equipment that is adventurous. This is just an added incentive, like premium play.
“We would hope to get some concessions that could cover those children who couldn’t access it, for example a resident’s day.”
Occupy protesters moved in last month in a failed last-ditch bid to save the beleagured playground, which has now been bulldozed.
The new equipment will not require staff, all 14 of whom were sacked last year.
Commercial companies, charities and other organisations are being invited to tender to manage the site and provide staff to assist with the new, charged-for equipment.
Councillors were set to vote for the proposals at a committee meeting on February 12 after the newspaper went to press.