Calls for council to listen to Borderers ahead of playparks discussion tomorrow

Decisions over the future of under-threat playparks in the Borders won’t be made without consulting town councillors and other locals first.

Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 10:44 am
Kelso provost Dean Weatherston at a Kelso playpark.

That’s the assurance coming from Scottish Borders Council ahead of a meeting tomorrow to discuss the fate of 74 small playparks deemed under used or falling into disrepair.

The local authority came in for criticism this time last year after it announced the potential closure of small playparks as part of a £5m programme to create six large ones, three skateparks and four fitness shelters over the next decade.

Residents voiced concerns over the scrapping of smaller parks, and following two petitions organised by Hawick and Kelso townsfolk, council officers plan to meet with councillors for each of the authority’s 11 wards to go through the plans.

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If agreed at tomorrow’s full council meeting, feedback gathered from those consultations will be fed back to Martin Joyce, the council’s service director for assets and infrastructure, and he in turn will brief a future full council meeting to help decide a way forward.

That is not good enough and more involvement from townsfolk is needed before any decisions are reached, though, according to some community leaders.

Kelso Community Council chairman Dean Weatherston said: “While I am glad to hear Scottish Borders Council has reviewed its plans to decommission so many playparks without consultation with communities, I would be very concerned if they only took on board the thoughts of ward councillors.

“Community councils, parents’ groups and individuals have all given feedback to the consultation and sent in petitions, and it’s important these views are heard by the full council.

“I know from other community council chairs that some ward councillors in the Borders vote the way they are told by their political parties rather than their constituents.

“I’ve even heard some say we are not closing any playparks, which is true because the land will still be there but what they don’t mention is that they will remove the play equipment, so we have to be very cautious of the words they use.

“This is just another example of the council having communication issues with the communities it serves.

“Rather than making us write wishlists on Post-it notes at area partnership meetings, why not have proper discussions about the things that affect us rather than just telling us once they’ve decided?”

Earlier this month, Mr Weatherston asked town councillors for an update on the plans at a community council meeting.

In response, councillor Simon Mountford assured him: “The reality is that none of the play areas are going to close.

“They will still be available for the public to use. Some of the equipment may be taken away where it is obsolete and won’t be replaced, but nothing has been decided yet. We want to keep local parks, but it’s a question of which ones.”

His counterpart Tom Weatherston added: “I think its fair to say that there will be a compromise. We will need to gather views before any decisions are made.”

A report by chief roads officer Jason Hedley going before councillors tomorrow suggests officers compile detailed maps for all 11 wards showing all the existing playparks and highlighting those earmarked to have equipment removed.

The maps would also detail the criteria used to assess the parks, the cost of inspection and maintenance of equipment and the distance between parks.

He then wants to see officers set up meetings on a ward-by-ward basis with councillors to discuss the proposals.

At those meetings, members would be asked to agree which playparks they would support being axed and which they’d prefer to see spared.

Retaining play equipment in all small parks would not be an option.