Coronavirus: Reopening of playgrounds 'a postcode lottery'

Longford Park in Stretford
Image caption Longford Park in Stretford, Trafford, is open

Children still cannot play in some outdoor play areas in England despite lockdown restrictions easing, with one frustrated parent describing whether they are reopening as a "postcode lottery".

Playgrounds were closed in March to contain Covid-19 but the government gave the green light to reopen them in England on Saturday.

However, gates remain locked in play areas around the country - including Leicester, Bradford, Bedford, Blackpool, Newcastle and North Somerset - with some areas divided over reopening.

The Local Government Association said some parks were able to open immediately but others remained shut as they required further risk assessments and adaption.

In Trafford, Greater Manchester, its play areas are in the process of reopening. But in nearby Manchester, youngsters have been unable to play on swings and slides this week.

On its website, Manchester City Council said 13 play areas would be reopening from Saturday, with safety rules in place.

It said it had carried out inspections and introduced new child-friendly signs and also planned to reopen more play areas before the end of the month.

Image caption Jo Brady's daughter begged her to lift her over the gates so she could play on the slide and swings

Playgrounds in other areas, including Stoke-On-Trent and Rochdale, have reopened but with social distancing guidelines, with the latter warning parents their children use the facilities at "your own risk".

Jo Brady, from Thingwall on the Wirral, Merseyside, said parents should be allowed to assess risk for themselves.

She has a newborn child and a two-year-old and said being unable to go to local play areas had made a "very challenging" situation worse.

"They are so important for children - for climbing, exercise, growing confidence and having fun but also for adults, too," she said.

"New mums can feel isolated and they really help to get you out and meet people."

She travelled to a park in neighbouring Cheshire on Thursday but found it "chained up" when she arrived.

"My daughter begged me to lift her over the gate," she said.

A Wirral Council spokesperson said it was working on a plan to reopen its 66 play areas on a phased basis in the coming weeks, adding there was "significant work to do to make sure they are safe to reopen".

Image caption Many play areas across England remain closed

Sandra Johnson, a mother of six who lives in Manningtree, Essex, said she was "disgusted" she cannot take her children to the play area in Summers Park in Lawford, when just two miles away over the border in Suffolk they are able to enjoy the slides and swings.

"It's nanny state to the extreme. Let them all open - and let parents take the risks and be responsible for their children," she said.

"Playgrounds are massively important for children and there are only so many walks you can take children on."

Lawford Parish Council, which owns Summers Park, has been asked for comment.

Image copyright Family photograph
Image caption Sandra Johnson's son Jake playing at Summers Park before the lockdown

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, from the Local Government Association, said councils recognised how important it was for children to play and were committed to ensuring they had access to safe play areas again as soon as possible.

"Many play areas have been able to open immediately but others may require further risk assessments and adaptation," he said.

He added it was vital for people to comply with government guidance on social distancing as flouting restrictions could put lives at risk and force councils to close public spaces for longer.

Father-of-three Sam Williams, who lives near Victoria Park in London, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service it was "deeply frustrating" Tower Hamlets Council said they may remain closed until August while the gates were opened by authorities in Croydon and Westminster.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: "We will open our playgrounds once our risk assessments and annual safety inspections are complete."

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