Notice has been given pursuant to Council Procedure Rule 11 of the intention to present a petition in the following terms:
Saving Bridgemill Play Area
We, the undersigned, wish our park at Bridgemill Play Area to remain with the bark surfacing, and not to be replaced with rubber surfacing, and do not want this play area to close.
Mrs Susan Hogg presented a petition in the following terms:
We, the undersigned, wish our park at Bridge Mill play area to remain with the bark surfacing, and not to be replaced with rubber surfacing, and do not want this play area to close.
In presenting the petition, Mrs Hogg said that:
· When the Bridge Mill play area was replaced a few years ago, it was designed so that the equipment enhanced the natural woodland setting by having a chip bark surface surrounded by wooden edges. The play area was well used by residents of Tovil and adjoining Wards. The purpose of the petition was to inform the Maidstone Borough Council Parks and Open Spaces Team that residents did not wish the bark surfacing to be replaced with rubber surfacing and did not want the play area to close.
· Local residents first heard about the proposal to replace the bark surfacing and the possibility of the play area being closed at a meeting of the Parish Council in January 2015 and through a local newspaper. The estimate which had been obtained was only to replace some of the surfacing and did not include the cost of taking away the old surfacing. The use of rubber surfacing elsewhere had resulted in the need for ongoing repairs due to the surfacing lifting up and breaking. There had been no official complaints about the use of bark surfacing at the Bridge Mill play area.
During the discussion on the petition, Members made a number of points, including:
· Funding for the renewal of the play area was raised by Councillor Derek Mortimer in conjunction with Tovil Parish Council some four years ago and included a Government grant obtained through Kent County Council and Section 106 monies from the Borough Council. Bark surfacing was chosen at that time as it was in keeping with the woodland surroundings. Also at that time there was a discussion about the possibility of ownership of the play area being transferred, in due course, from the Borough Council to the Parish Council. Since then, there had been a considerable reduction in the funding made available by the Borough Council to the Parish Council.
· A meeting was held recently between the Borough Council and the Parish Council to discuss the maintenance and future ownership of the play area. At that meeting, the Borough Council asked the Parish Council to consider supporting and helping to finance the change from bark surfacing to rubber surfacing which was considered to be more economic from a maintenance point of view. The view locally was that this change would be unacceptable.
· The play area was probably unique in design and style and one of the best medium sized play areas in Maidstone. The petition demonstrated the value placed on the excellent facility by parents and children.
· There were no plans to close this play area, which was classified as a strategic play area. The equipment was in good condition having been replaced some four years ago. The main issue related to the surfacing. The Borough Council maintained approximately 70 play areas with a total annual maintenance budget of around £28,000. The maintenance budget was not only for safety surfacing, but also for repairing the equipment and replacing items such as swing seats, fencing and gates. The petitioners wanted to see the bark surfacing retained, but it was very expensive to maintain and the cost of maintaining it formed a significant part of the overall maintenance budget. Discussions were taking place with the Parish Council and it was hoped that agreement could be reached regarding a cost effective solution.
· The information provided about the annual cost of maintaining the bark surface at Bridge Mill Way was different from that held by the Parish Council and should be checked by the local Members. It was necessary to ensure that the estimates obtained were accurate and comparable given experience to date about the expected life span of the alternative surface.
· The Parish Council spent approximately £800 last year topping up the bark surfacing and keeping the play area safe. The estimated cost of the new surfacing was £30k-£40k.
· A way forward might be the setting up of a Trust which would be able to use its charitable status to apply for funding for the upkeep of the play area and new equipment.
· It was anticipated that the Maidstone Play Strategy – A Strategy for Outdoor Equipped Play Areas would be submitted to the Cabinet Member for approval next month. It would cover two areas; a long term strategy and an immediate improvement programme, and had been the subject of extensive consultation.
RESOLVED: That the petition and the points raised in the debate be referred to the Cabinet Member for Community and Leisure Services for consideration.