The Assistant Director for Streetscene presented the Play Strategy to Cabinet for consideration and approval.
Members were appraised of the aims of the Play Strategy, including:
· Contributing towards the delivery of the Council Plan, and the health and wellbeing of local communities;
· Reducing the carbon footprint of installing and maintaining play provision;
· Demonstrate the level of management at District Council level for owning and maintaining the provision;
· Set clear responsibilities of provision, along with the type that meets the vision of the Strategy;
· Fairer play provision – allowing Town and Parish Councils and communities that meet certain criteria to bid into the Council’s capital budget for up to 25% of the project total
· Strong links with GSP and OSS strategies;
· Explanations on access and resources;
· Demonstrate the economic value of play space; and
· Setting out an action plan for delivery.
He highlighted the forward plan of capital investment in the sites owned by the Council. These sites would be funded and maintained for at least the life of the strategy. He also stressed the key theme of setting the quality standard to which sites under EDDC control would have, which would serve as a benchmark for others to use for future play areas created under development schemes.
Councillors Kim Bloxham and Kevin Blakey raised a number of concerns relating to the provision at Cranbrook, including:
· Challenging the perception of the Council Tax level for Cranbrook being high due to the management of the Cranbrook Town Council maintained play areas – this was not correct, as the play area element was small, with the largest element of the precept relating to the 34 hectares of country park and open space. Based on the known cost at Cranbrook, it was suggested that therefore many other towns would be able to afford maintaining their own play areas and therefore devolvement of the assets to then would be a better strategy;
· Care with management company arrangements on new developments, based on the experience of Cranbrook, as such arrangements do not work with a large development and unfairly hit the tax payer, and the lack of accountability and transparency requirements that local authorities have to provide;
· Suggestion to work with Cranbrook Town Council to develop the strategy further to get first hand experience of the issues experienced, to learn lessons for future developments;
· Welcoming the intention to investigate measures to improve fairer play provision across the District, but the suggested 25% funding help to deliver a community project was not the way forward. It would be more beneficial to transfer play assets to towns and parish councils to maintain and remove the two tier system that exists;
· The strategy as it stands does not sufficiently support Cranbrook and emerging new communities.
In response, the Assistant Director acknowledged the views provided and outlined how the strategy had tried to reflect those concerns. It was not financially viable for the Council to take on all the facilities in the district – this would amount to an additional 4 to 7 million on top of the existing capital fund. The primary goal was to protect the Council owned sites, before moving on to exploring other sites.
The Strategy was primarily about the standards provided, and protecting provision at Council owned sites in the face of previous affordability/budget challenge. It discusses the Cranbrook issue, but this is not the main focus of the strategy. It also sets out how the Council valued the importance of play, as well as the economies of scale in maintaining and inspecting to keep those areas safe for use.
Whilst some local councils may wish to take on play assets, the position set out in the Strategy was to keep those current EDDC maintained sites as best placed. Options such as community trusts may be considered for new developments, but the Council was not in a financial position to take on additional sites without consequences of cuts elsewhere in budget. There was no easy solution to the two tier system of ownership of the Council, and management charge systems for play sites delivered through housing developments, but investigating ways of mitigating this was part of the strategy, such as reviewing current planning practice on public open space through work on the developing Local Plan.
The Portfolio Holder for Coast, Country and Environment gave his support for the strategy, which reflected a compromise and a way forward to seek a balance.
RECOMMENDED to COUNCIL
1. that the EDDC Play Strategy 2022 – 2032 be adopted;
2. that the section on fairer play provision for Town and Parish Councils is noted, which will allow community groups to bid into the Council’s capital budget for up to 25% of the project total, subject to budget availability and meeting the criteria in section 4 of the Play Strategy.
Adopting the Play Strategy will help guide both the Council and the public on the direction of play provision for the next time period. It also permits a mechanism for Town and Parish Councils to bid for additional funding towards projects in their community, providing access to fairer play provision, with acknowledgement of play sites brought forward though housing development and run by a management company will lead to a two tier system between adopted EDDC sites and new sites. The strategy will explore ways to improve this position.