The Association of Play Industries has revealed that despite increasing national concerns about children's health, by 2020/21 there will have been a 44% decrease in spend on outdoor play facilities, with a further 29 play areas set to be closed in the North West in the next three years.
As per a Freedom of Information request, the API have shone a light in the alarming rate of playground closures across the UK which have come and are set to continue at a time when the Government is nevertheless claiming to be getting tough on tackling childhood obesity and mental health problems.
Having first uncovered the state of playground decline in England in 2017 via their 'Nowhere to Play' report, the API have requested local authorities disclose current and planned playground closures, showing that since 2014, local authorities have closed a total of 347 playgrounds across England and that there will be a decrease in spend on playgrounds of over £13m each year on average.
“A resource we all took for granted – safe, local and free space in which our children can play – is disappearing," said API chair, Mark Hardy, who called it 'a very worrying picture'. "Unless action is taken now, it seems we are in danger of losing playgrounds permanently.
“The impact on the NHS of childhood obesity, poor fitness and mental health problems is sizeable," he added. "One of the root causes is that children are not playing outside as freely as they once did and this is partly because of the lack of local, high-quality and safe areas available for them to play in and socialise.
"A relatively small investment by government could have huge social and health benefits for years to come; outdoor play is essential to children’s development. In this screen obsessed and often time poor society, children need playgrounds to develop vital social skills more than ever, and as such these community spaces have a central role in children’s physical and mental health."
Mary Lubrano, the director of strategy communications at the Federation of Sports and Play Industries (FSPA) calls public playgrounds 'the building blocks of childhood', adding: "Free and local access to these spaces should not be viewed as a luxury and top of list to cut in times of austerity. Any savings derived from closing playgrounds is short-term and short-sighted – the cost to an entire generation will be its physical and mental health and we support the API in its call for urgent government investment.”
In 2016/17, local authorities closed 63 playgrounds and in 2017/18 a further 70 playgrounds have been closed, prompting Nicola Butler, Chair of Trustees at Play England to comment: “No wonder playing out is in steep decline when you see the API’s latest research. How can families play outside when their local playgrounds are being closed?
"If the government is serious about tackling children’s mental health and obesity it has to reverse local government cuts and champion children’s right to play," she added.
Focusing on the potential health benefits for children - as well as the ensuing financial relief on the NHS - Tim Phillips, Chairman of Trustees Fields in Trust, said that well-equipped play facilities are vital, and that as per his research, the NHS saved some £111m a year due to regular users of such parks having fewer GP visits and improving community health.
"Badly-maintained parks and those without playgrounds are increasingly at risk of being sold off to assist councils in pursuit of their other priorities," Tim added. "Such moves are very likely to be false economies; we believe regular use of well-maintained playgrounds and parks is fundamental to community health and well-being.”
A full copy of the research and statistics can be found at https://www.api-play.org/news-events/nowhere-to-play/ .