Children's playground saved

UPDATE: Bexley Council have removed Old Manor Way Playground from the list of open spaces that could be sold off

On Tuesday 30th June at the Places Overview and Scrutiny Committee Bexley Councillors listened to local resident Lauren Allam speak up for local children and residents before announcing the playground would be saved.

Special thanks to everyone involved. Personally I'm delighted but feel it's a shame that it had to come to this - many, many hours of Lauren's (and others) time to create facebook pages, set up petitions, gain signatures, attend meetings, research the area and much, much more.

The playground should never have been on that hit list - shame on the person or persons who listed it - you never had any idea how much this place meant to local people did you? but no doubt you had an idea how much it was worth to developers.

Big thanks as well to the councillors who supported the playground.

Council seek to sell off children's playground

Bexley Council have listed 27 open spaces that could possibly be sold off. They range from open spaces adjacent to buildings, highway land and, believe it or not, Barnehurst's only children's swing park.

Barnehurst Editorial
On Wednesday 4th March the council agreed in principle to the sell off.

I was told on Thursday 5th March, 'the principle of disposal for the 27 sites was agreed by full Council yesterday'

But we can all relax because 'no decision' has been made.

The council recently stated on their website'No decision has so far been taken on whether any of these sites will be sold.'

It is true they haven't made a decision to sell any of the listed sites; they've only identified plots of land that could possibly be sold. However, someone has compiled the list and included the playground. That was a decision. And not a very nice one judging by the many comments on the facebook page set up to save the playground.

If a burglar identified your house as one of 27 he's thinking of robbing, I don't think you would be too satisfied if he turned around and said; 'no decision has so far been taken on whether any of these houses will be robbed'.

What are the positives of selling this space?

Cash for playgroundsJust think of all that lovely money the playground could get from the property developers! Picture all those £50 notes falling from the skies into the lap of Bexley Council or try and imagine piles of cash filling the pockets of property developers selling flats or houses.

Or, like me, you can think of the people who actually use the playground.

There are no mitigating circumstances to close the playground. The ground is not dangerous from chemicals, subsidence, sink holes, no major refurbishment of the park is required and it is not obstructing any footpaths or new roads.

Whoever proposed the list and identified the playground at Old Manor Way must have no idea how much it's used, how important it is to the local people and I'm also guessing they don't live nearby or use it themselves.

If it is sold off what's going to go there? A new improved playground, a community centre, a library, tennis courts (that the council closed before)? No chance. Open spaces are sold for maximum profit and that will mean housing or flats.



Bexley Council need to get their head around the fact that once an open space is sold it is gone forever. You simply can't create more open space in the future. The demand for housing in Greater London will mean you will never reclaim plots of land that already have housing on it.

I repeat for Bexley Council: once an open space is sold it is gone forever.

What are the negatives of closing the park?

  • There are no alternatives nearby. The closest are Martens Grove, Erith, Crayford and Bexleyheath over 30 minutes walk away.
  • It is free and therefore affordable to anyone.

  • Children will be less active (have they not seen the Governments physical activity guidelines?). If not then I encourage them to click here and read the bit about under 5's who are at walking stage. It includes Energetic play, e.g. climbing frame or riding a bike and More energetic bouts of activity, e.g. running and chasing games
  • The park contains trees, shrubs and hedgerows and an open flight path into the railway embankment for insects and birds. This would be destroyed. Again, relax, because the council have said 'Slightly reducing the number of green areas for which we are responsible will allow us to maintain a reasonable level of grounds maintenance, to provide facilities within the parks and a diverse landscape with a range of habitats for biodiversity,' Read that last part again: a diverse landscape with a range of habitats for biodiversity. Some nice buzzwords there. How will the council create habitats for biodiversity when they could destroy one? The council's response was to use some of the money to 'create an endowment fund which the Council would use to continue the maintenance of a diverse landscapes with different habitats in the remaining sites.' How though? What would they use this money for? There are in fact ways to do this, for example, you could create insect houses, add bat boxes, plant insect/bird friendly plants into other areas but i think the council haven't thought that far ahead.
  • And for the most important reason: Children use it. A lot.

Cuts

I understand the council do have to make cuts and manage budgets when their funding is slashed but a kids swing park! I asked Councillor Sawyer how much it costs to maintain and was told. 'without taking into account the replacement cost of the play equipment at Manor Way, the annual maintenance charge is annually about £700.'

Not that high at all and most of the equipment is relatively new. Even if the cost is too high then volunteers could be sought or crowdfunding could happen, is the year 2015 after all. Could we get advertising boards in place with local companies advertising/sponsoring the park to maintain the upkeep?

Map showing the playground

Councillor Sawyer also told me 'If the proposal to sell Old Manor Way playground was to proceed the annual maintenance budget could potentially be needed on a nearby replacement facility.

I wonder where this could be? The cost of a replacement park would be very high.

Sell off

If it were to be sold off then the council state; 'Even if the principle of disposal is agreed after the results of the consultation have been considered, the sites will be subject to detailed technical evaluation and further public consultation before any decision is taken.'

I was also told about the low percentage this proposal represents, 'It is important to set the scale of this proposal. The area of the 10 possible open space sites under consultation for disposal represents just 0.37% of the Councils parkland and the 17 small green highway sites represents 1.44% of the green highway land.

This isn't about the numbers (by the way the councillor who said this represents just 1.66% of the whole of Bexley's elected councillors).

I think it could go much further than this;

English Heritage

The playground has been there since 1939 and it reflects the emergence of Barnehurst as we see it today. This period of time reflects the emerging London suburbs driven by the railways. English Heritage state;
    Local heritage assets can range from buildings, designed landscapes, archaeology and elements of the natural environment. By involving local people in their preparation, local lists and the practices and processes that support them represent a voluntary agreement between local planning authorities and community representatives on how local heritage assets are managed.


Open Spaces Society

It could be possible to register the playground space as a protected green space. They state;
    Town and village greens are land where local people have enjoyed informal recreation, for at least 20 years, without challenge or permission.

And it doesn't have to be a 'village green' either;

    They can be any scrap of land that qualifies because of its use - the patch behind the housing or industrial estate where children play and people gather blackberries for instance.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2012 states;

74. Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:

  • an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
  • the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location; or
  • the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the needs for which clearly outweigh the loss.

The Planning Practice Guideline's state;
    opportunities for healthy lifestyles have been considered (e.g. planning for an environment that supports people of all ages in making healthy choices, helps to promote active travel and physical activity, and promotes access to healthier food, high quality open spaces and opportunities for play, sport and recreation)

In 2014 a written ministerial statement by Nick Boles MP on local planning.

    'The coalition government is committed to reforming the planning system to make it simpler, clearer and easier for people to use, allowing local communities to shape where development should and should not go. Planning should not be the exclusive preserve of lawyers, developers or town hall officials. We are also committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded, and devolving power down not just to local councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and local residents.'


I urge everyone to sign the petition (the website does run quite slow and you do need to register) and visit the facebook site.
I will also update this page if there any further comments from the council.

Further reading;

Facebook: Save Old Manor Way Playground
Sign the petition here.
UK physical activity guidelines - Department of Health
Planning Practice Guidance
National Planning Policy Framework
Open Space Society
English Heritage
Bexley Council - Possible sale of open spaces and green highway sites


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