The “great British tradition” of children’s playgrounds are “declining at quite an alarming rate”, a Labour MP has warned.
Chris Leslie said that nationally playgrounds were not being replaced at the same rate at which they were disappearing, with pressures on the availability of local outdoor spaces, plus “very squeezed” resources.
The Nottingham East MP said parents were faced with the “retreat of the traditions of municipal provision” and had little choice but to find some voluntary alternative, adding: “It’s very, very difficult and the resources are quite scarce.”
Speaking during his Westminster Hall debate on the provision of children’s playgrounds, Mr Leslie said communal open spaces were “largely taken for granted”, adding that it was not just children who gained from outdoor exercise and socialisation, new parents also got to meet other parents.
He said: “Playgrounds do help reduce isolation, they build new friendship networks for new mums and dads, this is a great watering hole for people to come together and meet and form new bonds in a community.”
Mr Leslie said that since 2009 Nottingham had had to cut its parks and open spaces budget by £3 million with a further £300,000 to be cut in the next financial year, adding: “It’s a story repeated across the whole of the country”.
Playgrounds he argued were one of the best ways of encouraging children into physical activity when childhood obesity levels were at “epidemic levels”.
He added: “I believe there is a strong correlation between higher instances of obesity and mental health issues in childhood and the deprivation experienced in some areas where free play opportunities are limited or are lacking, (it) is a significant challenge for public policy makers.”
Investment in play facilities he said would yield savings for the NHS in the longer run, adding that £100 million would be able to deliver 1,600 playgrounds.
He said: “I think that is the sort of level we’re talking about to really counter the downward trend.”
Children’s voices needed to be represented much more in developing policy, he added, as he called for a report to be commissioned into the state of play facilities and open spaces across the UK.
Responding, local government minister Rishi Sunak said ensuring playgrounds, parks and open spaces were available and accessible was in the first instance the responsibility of individual local authorities.
He said: “We all want our children to be healthy and active no matter what their background and that’s why it is important that we focus as a priority on what’s happening in schools.”
The Parks Action Group established in 2017, he said, was undertaking important work and aimed to deal with the issues facing the parks sector.