Council bosses are facing a furious backlash over plans to close more than 70 of the region’s playparks.
Scottish Borders Council’s administration has agreed a 10-year spending plan to invest £5m in facilities including six new large playparks, three skateparks and four fitness shelters, but to help pay for that, it’s proposing to close dozens of smaller playgrounds it says are under-used and not fit for purpose.
The move has already attracted widespread criticism, amid claims it is short-sighted and detrimental to the wellbeing of the region’s children.
A protest petition was launched this week by Hawick gym Think Fitness 4 Less urging the council to stop closing playparks, and it can be found on the change.org website.
The O’Connell Street gym’s aim was to attract the backing of 500 Borderers, and more than 300 had signed up to support it within a couple of days.
A spokesperson for the gym said: “With the UK Government constantly battling to get kids exercising, we feel this decision by Scottish Borders Council is ludicrous and only makes the challenge tougher.
“We would urge the council to adopt a totally different approach and invest in giving playparks a much-needed revamp with new and exciting equipment.”
Bigger playparks have opened at Selkirk, Galashiels, Hawick and Harestanes, near Ancrum, in recent years, with others to follow soon in Kelso, Coldstream and Peebles.
A new pump track is also planned for Hawick’s Wilton Lodge Park, in addition to skateparks in Jedburgh and Peebles.
However, to cover the cost of maintaining that new equipment, 74 of the region’s 243 smaller play facilities face being decommissioned.
They include 11 in Galashiels and 10 in Hawick, plus dozens more in Selkirk, Kelso, Peebles, Melrose and Jedburgh.
Council leader Shona Haslam is a driving force behind the move, believing it is best for the long-term future of playpark facilities, and she said: “Our investment means we will have bigger and better facilities but some smaller facilities will have to close.
“We have lots of old equipment in unsuitable locations – for example, on concrete standings or in fields that flood easily, are often vandalised or are in a poor state of repair – and we are discussing with communities what should happen to these.
“We want our playparks to be the best, but that may mean some of the single swings and roundabouts may have to go.”
Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, the authority’s executive member for neighbourhoods and locality services, added: “The new playparks that we are putting in place are of a really high standard, with the latest features, including specialist equipment to make sure they are inclusive.
“We are investing a large amount of money in improving the right facilities in the right places.
“We are planning to remove some of the smaller, life-expired parks but will not do this until the new facilities in the locality are completed.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall says the clock is ticking on any hopes of forcing a U-turn on the move as if the decommissioning is agreed, the closures will take place next winter.
He said: “The prospect of decommissioning our playparks is one which worries me greatly. Hawick is set to lose 11 of these vital facilities, and it’s little wonder that there is so much public outrage .
“I met with council officers last week in order to get a better understanding of these proposals, and the message that came from that meeting was how keen the council really is to get as many views as possible forwarded to them.
“I would urge everyone who has a concern about the future of their playparks to make contact with all of their elected representatives so that they in turn can feed back such views.
“We are against the clock in Hawick as I’m led to believe that if this decommissioning programme is agreed, then it would become effective from this coming winter.”
A further 11 playparks face the axe in Peebleshire, but that is set against plans to spend £520,000 on a new playpark and skatepark in the town’s Victoria Park.
Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson welcomes that investment but is concerned at the impact it will have on other smaller facilities.
She said: “The proposals for Peebles are great and the new play area will hopefully be a genuine playpark for all ages, but sometimes having swings and a chute locally is pretty good too.
“We shouldn’t be closing playparks for small children if we can possibly avoid it.”
Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell added: “Parents tell us, especially for small children, they value small local facilities where kids don’t have to cross busy roads and parents can keep an eye on them. These parents have a right to be consulted on any changes.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson believes the decision needs to be reconsidered, adding: “I have been chatting to folk, and I think that there could well be some backtracking on this. I hope so.
“I can’t believe that the administration are talking about closing play areas. Children have got to be allowed to play. I have encouraged this ever since I got elected 31 years ago.
“One of the big concerns in the UK is the increase of type-two diabetes, so I think it is a backward step to even think about closing play areas.
“What’s going to be next? Will they be planning to build on playing fields or shut all the council-owned toilets to save money?”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage believes that, if implemented, the plans would have a huge impact, particularly on non-drivers.
She said: “With the development of destination parks across the Borders, including Harestanes costing £350,000, only those who can drive can access those tourist attractions.
“Many of the residents in my ward do not have the luxury of a car.
“Local playparks are very important areas and especially now when it is important to encourage children to play outside and not be sitting in front of computer games.
“The health and wellbeing of our children is very important.
“These smaller playparks have only two or three pieces of equipment and are therefore only suitable for younger children.
“Families have contacted me with their many concerns over these proposed closures and want local councillors to take a stand against this.”
“It is really important that, as communities, we make our voices heard, and I would urge anybody who has strong views about the closure of our smaller playparks to contact your councillor.”
Colin McGrath, chairman of the community council network in the Borders, believes the move is all about saving money.
He said: “The community council network is opposing this decision.
“It’s all to do with saving money, we think, but the council should have spoken directly to the users first, looked around and had a consultation over which, if any, parks should close.
“As always it’s the cart before the horse and the community not being involved from the outset as it should be.”
Among the playparks facing the axe are 30 in Eildon, including, in Galashiels, those in Balnakiel Terrace, Broom Drive, Croft Street, Kingsknowes, Lee Brae, Netherbank, Roger Quin Gardens, Rosebank Place, Skye’s Acre, Waverley Place and Woodlea; in Selkirk, Bannerfield A, Fairfield Crescent, Heatherlie and Rosebank Quarry; at Newtown, Newtown Street and Newtown Street Whitfield; Milburn Park in Lauder; Eildon View, Fairways and Priors Park in Melrose; Dean Park and Rushbank at Newstead; Lady’s Walk at Darnick; Acorn Drive, Everest Road, Gun Road and Summerfield in Earlston; and Still Haugh at Fountainhall.
In Teviot and Liddesdale, the playpark at the Loaning in Denholm and 10 in Hawick – Bowden Road, Burnfoot School, Hawick Green, Hislop Gardens, Leaburn Drive, Mayfield, Millers Knowe, Waverley Walk, Wellington Court and Wilson Drive – face the axe.
In Tweeddale, 11 also face the chop, in Peebles at Crossburn Farm Road, Eliots Park, Glen Crescent, Hay Lodge Park, Kingsland Square, Kingsway and Melrose Place; Caddon Court and at the memorial hall in Innerleithen; Eubank at Eddleston; and Caddonhaugh at Clovenfords.
In Cheviot, 13 are set to go, in Jedburgh at Forthill, Howden Road, Jedbank Grove and Priors Meadow; and in Kelso at Berrymoss Court, High Croft, Meadow Court, Orchard Park, Rosewood Gardens, Springwood Rise, Spylaw Park, Sydenham Court and Woodside Gardens.
In Berwickshire, eight playparks face being shut, in Eyemouth at Stebbings Rise and Hallydown Crescent; in Duns at Trinity Park and Ainslee Terrace; in Coldstream at Douglas Court and Lees Farm; Lammerview at Chirnside; and the lower site at Burnmouth.