Public protest as campaigners bid to halt demolition and replacement of Viking Ship play equipment in Cliftonville

The Viking Ship play site when it was installed in 2009. It has since deteriorated significantly Image CPCL

A public protest is due to take place tomorrow (December 20) in a bid to save the Viking Ship equipment at the Ethelbert Crescent play area (Newgate Gap) in Cliftonville.

The Viking Ship play area was installed in 2009 with the major structural components being of Robinia wood rather than the galvanised/powder coated steel used for most apparatus. It was funded with £300,000 from the Stronger, Safer Communities Fund according to council agenda minutes from the year of installation.

However, a report to Thanet council Cabinet members said the condition of play equipment has been deteriorating and become a Health and Safety risk. An inspection in December 2020 reported 83 defects at the Viking Ship playground with concerns raised over the timber structural elements of the Viking ship itself.

In response Thanet council plan to use £169,517 of a £211,280 allocation from Kent County Council for Community Parks for demolition at the existing site and then installation of replacement play equipment.

Work is due to take place in February and March 2022 and will include the demolition/removal of the existing Viking ship, playhouse climbing frame, rocker seal and sprung rocker ship.

They will be replaced with:

Castles Keep – large 3 storey castle with multiple slides, poles and net

Castle Gatehouse – castle with slide and rope bridge

Track Ride Tower – zip wire type apparatus with tower and net

Wheelchair Carousel – inclusive roundabout carousel

Swings with cradle swing set and inclusive “you and me” swing

Jumper Square – floor trampoline type jumper

Horse Seesaw

Spinner Bowl

Agility Trail

The funding must be spent by 31 March 2022.

Image CPCL

But members of the Friends of Cliftonville Coastline group say the ‘iconic and unique’ Viking Ship must be saved. They will gather at the playground tomorrow at 10am and are inviting others to join them, who:

“Have children who will be heartbroken by the loss of our unique iconic Viking Ship, so integral to imaginative natural play.

“Believe this money should be spent on renovation and improvements (eg improved access and a wheelchair carousel) rather than a demolition and expensive rebuild.

“And that the saved money could then be spent across Margate and beyond to benefit multiple deteriorating playgrounds in need, eg Dane Park.

“Think the council must be held to account for the lack of future planning and ongoing maintenance of ailing community infrastructure.

“Is fed up with the lack of scrutiny over whether Section 106 funds from developers are properly collected, and why they are not being used to maintain local playgrounds, as allocated.

“Believes we should safeguard our conservation areas, and adhere to planning permissions where required to protect them.

“Thinks we should scrutinise large and sudden expenditures such as this, where the legal tendering process for contractors and planning permission is ‘skipped.’

“And that there should be far more consultation within the community to find out what is wanted and needed locally.”

Image CPCL

A Friends of Cliftonville Coastline spokesperson said: “The ROSPA consultant’s report recommends that the Viking Ship should have 5 supporting posts replaced, the sand pit frame should have 2 replacement posts and that these should be inspected every 2 years.

“The cost of replacing the supporting posts is estimated to be £8-10K. Due to the high level of the ship mast inspection costs are estimated to be £3K every two years.

“So why is demolition the only option being considered, instead of the obviously much cheaper and more environmentally sustainable option of renovation and maintenance?

“Section 106 payments are meant to be used to maintain playgrounds near to new developments of a certain size. There is no trace of whether allocated money was ever gathered or spent on the Viking Ship Playground.”

At a Cabinet meeting on December 16, when the park funding was approved, Green councillor Mike Garner suggested Section 106 money – contributions from developers for isle infrastructure – should be investigated with any outstanding amounts added to the fund for the Cliftonville park which, in turn, would release funding to replace fencing at Memorial Rec play area. An amount for this work has been provisionally allocated from the parks grant and officers have said they will investigate the section 106 funding.

Allocations have also been made for work at Crispe Park in Birchington and Northdown Park.

Photo Friends of Cliftonville Coastline

On The Isle of Thanet News article revealing park funding plan, a post from CEO at The Children’s Playground, Rinske Wassenaar said: “Being the supplier of this bespoke playground and with over 20 years of experience working with Robinia playground equipment, this playground is in no need of replacement.

“Looking thoroughly at the photos (in the article), I am convinced only minor repairs would be required, e.g. replacing of missing parts, addressing possible splits, sanding off sap wood and repaint. We have overhauled similar sized playgrounds for a cost ranging between £8-12k, where we completely sanded off the sapwood. The playground will look like new and would last at least for another 10 years.”

The total annual playground revenue budget of £39,000 a year is split between the isle’s 31 playgrounds. In 2020/21, Thanet council says £12,647 of this was spent on essential maintenance and £1,900 on inspections at the Ethelbert Crescent play area alone.

Cllr George Kup, Cabinet Member for Community Safety & Youth Engagement said: “I’m delighted that the Council has been awarded £221k of Community Parks grant funding as part of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF).

“£170k of this funding will be used to replace and improve the play area equipment at Ethelbert Crescent. The cost of maintaining and repairing the existing apparatus at Ethelbert Crescent has become unsustainable, with a disproportionate amount of the maintenance budget for all play equipment across the district being spent here. Without this improvement work the play area would be closed due to its deteriorated condition.

“The Community Parks funding will also fund improvements at other parks in the district to encourage the use of outdoor spaces in line with the objectives of the grant funding. The funding must be spent by the end of March 2022 and officers have had to work quickly to develop a scheme based on prioritised need and community benefit. Due to these tight timescales, it is regrettable that we have not been able to consult with the local community.

“It is disappointing that a small minority of people are protesting against a decision that is providing a lifeline for the popular Viking Ship playground. The funding means that a high quality play area, with more inclusive and accessible equipment than currently, will now be available in the long term for the benefit of the local community.”

Huge overhaul of Viking Ship play area in Cliftonville approved as part of £211k parks funding for Thanet