Questions being asked about how list of Borders playparks facing axe was drawn up

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall at the Stirches playpark.
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall at the Stirches playpark.

Questions are being asked about how controversial plans were drawn up to get rid of many of the region’s small playparks and focus on larger, more central ones.

Scottish Borders Council agreed in May to consult on plans to shut 73 small playparks it says are underused and falling into disrepair. 

Instead, it plans to spend £5m over 10 years on six large playparks, three skateparks and four fitness shelters.

However, at last week’s full meeting of the council, opposition councillors called those plans, complaining about lack of consultation beforehand.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall queried how the decision was made, saying the proposals appeared to have come from a working group of councillors and council officers without public or press scrutiny.

In reply, the administration’s executive member for neighbourhoods and locality services, Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, said: “On November 6, 2018, the convener, David Parker, issued an email to all members outlining the current status of the play park investment proposals, advising that discussions were continuing between himself, lead officer Jason Hedley and various members regarding specific investment proposals in specific areas which had been outlined in both the original report to council and the convener’s email.”

Mr Marshall asked: “Can the executive member confirm that he and his fellow administration members support the removal of the reportedly obsolete play areas and that this action will, as stated, improve community wellbeing and enhance activity levels for all ages, benefiting the health of the young people of the Borders?”

Mr Aitchison replied: “I can assure you that local members have been involved in the decision-making process and the placement of the new playparks in the areas where that is happening.

“Council officers went and did what we told them to do. They went to these areas and assessed all of the playparks. 

“What we had to do was get to a position of neutrality, where we show the cost of maintenance against usage.

“If we install new, we have to get rid of old, and I’m sorry but that’s just a fact of life, and it’s a fact of financial life.

“This is list is a consultation list, not a closure list.”

The council recently spent £342,000 on a new playpark at Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre, near Ancrum, following on from others built in Galashiels, Oxton and Stow. 

The council also opened a new playpark in Hawick in 2017 as part of the regeneration of Wilton Lodge Park, and Coldstream is next in line, with a £250,000 facility in Home Park opening any time now.

Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, also leader of the council’s Scottish National Party opposition group, asked how much it would cost to maintain the 11 parks in Tweeddale that appear on the closure consultation list.

Mr Aitchison replied: “While specific financial information is not available on a case-by-case basis, as it is not captured at such a granular level, the proposed removal of play equipment is intended to provide a cost-neutral impact when balanced across the available resources within the environmental and parks service. 

“I would further confirm that no playpark will be decommissioned until such times as the new playpark investment in that locality is complete and that no town or village which currently has a playpark would be left without one following the rationalisation process.”

Mr Bell followed up his query by saying: “I’m seriously trying to help this council from getting itself into more of a problem. One of the challenges is what the officers are trying to do, in following up on the decision we took in May. They’re interpreting that decision without realising that the wording used was ‘obsolete’.

“In my mind, obsolete means equipment which is not old but which is unused, and a number of playparks in Tweeddale are actually well used. 

“I have to say, in respect of Tweeddale, it is quite a focused issue there. If the council is not in a position to tell us the costs in Tweeddale, as in the costs associated with saving money, do you recognise that runs the risk of making the council look silly?”

Mr Aitchison told him: “The opportunity for the public appeared at the area partnerships to converge and engage with us, and that still applies. 

“If anyone out there, due to the publicity that this has received, gets in touch with us, then we’re more than willing to listen.”

“The officers have said the specific financial information is not available on a case-by-case basis.”

These are the 73 playparks facing closure ...

www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/politics/these-are-the-73-borders-playparks-facing-closure-1-4958994

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www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/politics/more-than-70-smaller-playparks-in-borders-facing-axe-as-part-of-5m-plans-1-4955209

www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/politics/borders-council-bosses-urged-to-scrap-proposals-to-shut-playparks-and-go-back-to-drawing-board-1-4958891

www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/politics/borderers-told-not-to-worry-about-plans-to-axe-playparks-and-promised-a-say-on-their-fate-1-4958895