A petition has been launched by the Friends of Cliftonville Coastline (FOCC) group requesting Thanet District Council saves the ‘unique’ Viking ship apparatus at the Ethelbert Crescent play area (Newgate Gap) in Cliftonville.
The Viking ship, playhouse climbing frame, rocker seal and sprung rocker ship are due to be removed due to concerns over deteriorating condition and health and safety risks. 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.
The equipment will be replaced with nine new apparatus using £169,517 of a £211,280 allocation from Kent County Council for Community Parks. Work is scheduled to start in February.
Planned new apparatus includes:
Castle’s 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
The Viking Ship play area was installed in 2009 with the major structural components being of sturdy Robinia wood. It was funded with £300,000 from the Stronger, Safer Communities Fund according to council agenda minutes from the year of installation.
But a report to councillors this month said that of the 2020/21 playground revenue budget of £39,000 a year -split between the isle’s 31 playgrounds – some £12,647 was spent on essential maintenance and £1,900 on inspections for the Viking Ship play park alone.
The cost of maintenance and repairs prompted the decision to use the bulk of the community parks grant for overhauling the Ethelbert Crescent play area.
The decision has upset some residents who say the Viking Ship should be repaired and maintained, particularly as the play area received a 5* RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) safety award when it was built by The Children’s Playground Company and was used as a case study for Play England promoting natural play.
Members of Friends of Cliftonville Coastline have also raised questions about the initial funding and how it was spent, saying The Children’s Playground company CEO has said the firm was paid £90,000 for the project.
Playground company CEO Rinske Wassenaar says only minor repairs would be required,such as replacing missing parts, addressing possible splits, sanding off sap wood and repainting, for a cost ranging between £8,000-£12,000.
On the petition page FOCC say: “We are in touch with the CEO of The Children’s Playground Company and she is keen to deploy her large team of skilled craftspeople to work with TDC to ensure this playground is not lost. They have given provisional costs to restore, improve and maintain the existing playground for a fraction of the cost of a demolition and rebuild.
“Why, therefore, is demolition the only option being considered, instead of the obviously much cheaper and more environmentally sustainable option of renovation and maintenance?”
The group has also asked whether there is developer contribution funding that could be used on the park and questioned why work has been approved without consultation.
Cliftonville West ward councillor Alan Currie says he welcomes the park proposal, saying it will make the site safer and more accessible for all ability children
He added: “The four remaining apparatus are all in a poor state of repair and if we didn’t make the most of this available grant funding it would end up being spent elsewhere.
“I have had to report safety issues on the play equipment so many times and I know safety, ongoing defects and maintenance costs were a large factor in this play area being prioritised with the funding.
“I’m sure all the apparatus could have been continually patched up to last another 7 years to see out the (20 year) guarantee but personally I am more than happy to have a new modern play area installed that will benefit the area and particularly residents with young families.
“This recent funding has to be spent by the end of March 2022, therefore officers have had to work very quickly to develop a scheme based on prioritised need and community benefit.
“I’m pleased that the new apparatus is not only much safer than the old play area but also incorporates many varied designs including a wheelchair carousel.”
Thanet council says the stipulation to have the funding spent by March has meant the authority had not been able to do a full community consultation.
A social media statement by TDC added: “Without this funding, the play area would have had to be closed due to its deteriorated condition – but now it can provide a high-quality play area for years to come. It will be more inclusive and have more accessible equipment than it does at the moment.”
Cllr George Kup, Cabinet Member for Community Safety & Youth Engagement said: “ 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.”
However, FOCC say they will continue to campaign for the renovation of the existing Viking Ship equipment and want assurances that money is committed to ongoing maintenance at the playground and others going forward.