Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam has hit back at continuing criticism of the authority’s plans to shut many of the region’s small playparks so it can focus resources on fewer but larger ones.
Councillors agreed in May to consult on the closure of 74 small playparks said to be underused and falling into disrepair.
That move will go hand in hand with spending £5m over the next decade on six large playparks, three skateparks and four fitness shelters.
At a full council meeting today, August 29, the sums involved in that change of emphasis were called into question by Kelso councillor Euan Robson, however.
He asked Tweeddale East councillor Mrs Haslam to explain how the local authority calculated savings supposedly made by closing smaller playparks and was told: “The council is investing significant sums in enhancing play facilities in our towns, improving the quality of facilities, which in many cases provide a very poor play experience.
“No net saving is planned from the programme, which is designed to be revenue-neutral.
“The overall revenue budget for the upkeep of parks across the Borders is contained within the budget for neighbourhood services, and no savings are projected from this budget as a result of the play programme.
“The removal of old play equipment from playparks which, following appraisal, were deemed to be low-value facilities will allow for sufficient resources to be deployed to maintain the new facilities being invested in by the council through the outdoor community spaces capital project on an ongoing basis.
“The new facilities include more pieces of equipment, widening access and providing higher play value than the previous, aged, low-amenity play equipment.
“The decommissioning of the older low-value facilities will ensure the revenue impact to the parks and environment service budget is cost-neutral.
“I would further confirm that no playpark will be decommissioned until such times as the new playpark investment in that locality is complete.
“Members should also note that no town or village which currently has a playpark will be left without one following the upgrade process.”
Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson also queried the council leader, asking for an update on the proposed closure of 11 parks in her ward.
Mrs Haslam told her: “The council requested feedback to the programme for decommissioning of playparks with an end date of August 18.
“Officers will now undertake a review of the feedback and, where appropriate, respond prior to implementing the council decision.
“In announcing a significant investment in outdoor community facilities, the council recognised the need to address the historic overprovision of low-value playparks.
“Indeed, the council is in amongst the largest providers of playparks per 1,000 head of population when compared to similar authorities. However, when it comes to quality, it is amongst the lowest in play value terms.
“The council decision to invest in destination playparks and decommission those playparks which are obsolete does not remove the spaces from fulfilling an important community need in terms of access to open spaces.
“These spaces can be used for informal play and have the potential to help the council address other issues such as its obligation to identify places for community food-growing.”
The council recently spent £342,000 on a new playpark at Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre, near Ancrum, following on from new such facilities opening in Galashiels, Oxton and Stow.
The council also opened a £300,000 playpark in Hawick in 2017 as part of the £3.64m regeneration of the town’s Wilton Lodge Park.
And Coldstream is next in line, a £250,000 playpark being set to open in its Home Park this Saturday, August 31.