When residents of Hitchin in North Hertfordshire heard that their beloved Brook View playground was included in a list of 14 parks that the council had scheduled for demolition, they were outraged. The local community came together to protest the council’s decision.
Their voices were heard and on the 24th of January Councillor Jane Grey announced to the council chamber that the park would be removed from the list, much to the delight of both local parents and their children.
The council had originally intended to do away with the park as part of cost cutting measures. A Comet review revealed that annual maintenance costs for the park amounted to £2,200. This meant a total cost of £6,600 over the next three years. Added to this, a planned renovation of the park’s facilities would cost a further £75,000. This brought the total cost for the period to £81,600.
It was calculated that to remove the existing facilities would cost £5,000, meaning that the council could save £76,600 if plans went ahead to do away with the park. Brook View was the only park on the list that had been identified as a medium use facility. The reason given for placing the park on the list was that it lay in close proximity to other parks.
When news broke of the council’s decision to demolish the park, it was met with resistance from residents. Some local youngsters actually burst into tears when they heard that their neighbourhood park was doomed. Fortunately for these children, the local community protested against the decision and the council was forced to change their tune.
The success of this action has led to people raising concern over other parks on the list. The council may have to rethink their plans to close more green spaces in the area.
It should come as no surprise that Hitchin residents reacted so strongly to the park’s closure. Around the United Kingdom, parents have become increasingly aware of the benefits that playgrounds have for their children’s development. Most councils in the country have taken the decision to invest in outdoor playground facilities. It therefore seems quite bizarre that the North Hertfordshire District Council should to choose to move in the opposite direction.
Recently, a number of studies have been conducted into the positive effects that outdoor play has on children up to the age of 16. All of these reports have indicated that there is a need to increase the number of playgrounds and other natural environments in schools and neighbourhoods. This is good news for youngsters whose mental and physical development is suffering from the negative effects of spending too much time indoors.
The actions taken by Hitchin residents to save their neighbourhood park should serve as a positive example to other communities around the country. It seems clear that councils facing increased financial pressure should consider other avenues to reduce expenditure. Saving money at the cost of our children’s development is not in our best interests.
We can all be thankful that local communities are realising the importance of providing a healthy and positive environment for our children to grow up in.