Wandsworth Council defends £2.50 playground charge
7:20am Friday 20th May 2011 in News
Wandsworth Council has justified its controversial decision to charge youngsters to use an adventure playground by saying that it is fairer on borough taxpayers who currently foot the whole bill.
Parents and politicians have queued up to condemn the plan to charge children as young as eight £2.50 to use the popular playground in Battersea Park at weekends from October.
But the council defended the move saying severe financial pressures mean no services are sacrosanct and as half of the 210,000 youngsters using the playground come from outside the borough it was only fair they should pay part of the £200,000 a year cost.
The pilot scheme was approved at a meeting of the Children and Education Services overview committee in February, but it only came to public attention last week when the issue was highlighted by Ken Livingstone and widely covered by the regional and national press.
It is a particularly hot political potato as it coincides with the departure of Wandsworth’s veteran Conservative leader, Edward Lister, who is taking up a London-wide role as Boris Johnson’s chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning.
A Labour petition to stop the scheme has already garnered 1,000 signatures. Concerns centre on the likelihood it will prevent poorer youngsters from using it and have a negative effect on health and crime in a borough where a quarter of children are living in poverty.
In its last Play Strategy for Wandsworth Councillor Kathy Tracey, responsible for children’s services and the pilot project, said: “Our commitment is clear, we know if children and young people are denied opportunities and space for play, their ability to thrive and achieve positive outcomes in all areas of their lives will be inhibited.”
There are also fears that if the pilot scheme brings in a significant amount of money the council will extend it to two other smaller, unstaffed adventure playgrounds in York Gardens, Battersea, and King George’s Park, Southfields.
The council insists it has no plans to do this, but a spokesman admitted he could not guarantee it would not happen in the future.
It is not planning to charge at Battersea Park on weekdays during school holidays, or after school hours during term time, but said it might do this if the scheme was a success.
A council spokesman said: “Part of the reason behind the charge is that half of the people who use the playground do not pay anything towards it.
“We do not think it is fair Wandsworth council taxpayers should pay for it all.”
He said any profit made from the scheme would be reinvested into other playgrounds.
But working mother-of-three Amanda Ardley, 38, of Eland Road, Battersea, said: “It’s an absolute outrage. Why are parents on small incomes or benefits being penalised? This has to be stopped. I have friends who have three children, and on benefits. How are they supposed to find the money to let their children play?”
Sarah Rackham, of mothers’ group Women of Wandsworth, said: “We are appalled. It doesn’t make sense at all. I have three children and I would not be prepared to pay that.
“Half the people on the Doddington estate are on benefits and they will not be able to pay. That is their garden as most of them live in high-rises.”
Tooting MP Sadiq Khan said: “Wandsworth should be promoting low cost healthy activities, like those on offer at Battersea Park, not driving poorer children and families away.”
Wandsworth Labour Party’s petition is at tinyurl.com/ pay-to-play-petition.
What are your views on the decision to start charging to use the adventure playground at weekends? Call the newsdesk on 020 87226344 or email email@example.com