Viking Ship play area in Cliftonville shut ahead of replacement works ‘over health and safety’ concerns

Viking Ship play area shut off over 'health and safety' concerns Photo John Horton

The Viking Ship playground in Cliftonville is closed to the public as from today (February 9) ahead of plans to replace equipment at the site.

Thanet council says the area has been shut “on health and safety grounds.”

New equipment for the park, in Ethelbert Crescent, has been ordered and is being manufactured by supplier Kompan.

The Viking ship, playhouse climbing frame, rocker seal and sprung rocker ship are being removed and will be replaced with nine new apparatus using £169,517 of a £211,280 allocation from Kent County Council for Community Parks.

Work is expected to start at the end of March and finish in late May.

Photo John Horton

A November 2021 report from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) concluded the ship, some of the other play equipment and the play area’s surfacing is not compliant with health and safety standards.

Thanet council says the equipment and the ship continue to deteriorate and the timber is decaying from the inside out.

A report to councillors in December 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.

Photo John Horton

The cost of that maintenance and repairs prompted the decision to use the bulk of the community parks grant for overhauling the Ethelbert Crescent play area and installing new play equipment which will feature inclusive apparatus such as a wheelchair carousel.

A Thanet council statement says: “Our internal playground inspections report that we are unable to economically maintain the existing equipment to an acceptable standard. The council has a duty to ensure the health and safety of playground users which is why we have taken the decision to close the Viking ship playground, with immediate effect.”

Cllr George Kup, Cabinet Member for Community Safety & Youth Engagement at Thanet District Council said: “Playgrounds have a hugely positive impact on children’s physical and mental health and I am delighted that we have been granted Community Parks funding from Kent County Council to provide a high-quality play area, with more inclusive and accessible equipment.

“Without this funding, the play area would remain closed as the council does not currently have the budget to replace it. This would be devastating for the local community. We expect the playground, complete with new equipment and safer surfacing, to re-open at the end of May.”Contractors will be on site fencing off the playground from today and signs will be in place directing people to the nearest alternative playground in Dane Park.

Photo Carl Hudson

In December a petition was launched by the Friends of Cliftonville Coastline (FOCC) group requesting Thanet District Council save the ‘unique’ Viking ship apparatus.

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.

The decision to remove apparatus and replace it with the new pieces upset some residents who said 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.

Photo John Horton

Playground company CEO Rinske Wassenaar said 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.

A FOCC spokesperson said: “In order to comply with the demands of the KCC funding to “upgrade” (AKA demolish) the Viking Ship playground, it comes as no surprise that TDC have just announced its closure. How did it suddenly become so unsafe overnight? Either it is not a critical danger at all, or children have been allowed to freely play on dangerous equipment.

“The embargoed news was conveniently announced today, on the very same day the playground is closed – thus giving the many children who love the Viking Ship zero opportunity to say goodbye to this much loved piece of play equipment. With half term around the corner, families are directed to walk to the already over-crowded and dangerous Dane Park playground instead. Clearly the powers that be at TDC do not have their own school age children and have no interest in how local kids feel about the loss of this unique part of their imaginative play, or how those kids are going to manage safe play outside over half term in a very deprived area. “

The group say the RoSPA report deemed faults at the park either low risk or medium risk but needing ‘high risk remedial repairs’ due to lack of maintenance, and say these could be easily and cheaply done by the original installers, adding: “There is no real reason to close the playground, and certainly no grounds to demolish it rather than repair it.”

The group also brand as “tosh” the council’s assertion that it is unable to economically maintain the existing equipment to an acceptable standard.

The FOCC spokesperson said: “TDC have refused to answer an FOI to share costs of the annual upkeep of this playground over the past 12 years and instead appear to have based this decision on the extortionate cost to replace the swings last year, which was a questionable decision itself: we have written confirmation that they could have been mended by the original installers far more cheaply. The end result is the loss of this much loved and unique play space, and the already overcrowded and dangerous Dane Park playground will deteriorate even faster.”

Find the petition here

New equipment:

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

Funding of £4,000 has also been allocated for painting of play equipment and fencing at Crispe Park in Birchington. Another £14,700 will be used for safety surfacing at Northdown Park and there is a provisional allocation of £16,000 for boundary fencing at Memorial Recreation Ground, Broadstairs.


  1. Closed just in time for half term when children need external entertainment (play time) rather than sitting in front of a screen.

      • Do you have young children or children you look after yourself? If yes, then which parks or beaches do you take them to, and if no, then what things would you do with them to keep them occupied? Lets say you had to look after them everyday throughout the summer holidays and did not have much money. Would every single day at the beach be enough, or would it be nice to have a free play area in one of the most deprived areas of Thanet?

          • But back to R’s original point: they hardly need to be stuck in front of a screen because a play park is closed off. This isn’t an inner city housing estate with no nearby parks or other play areas. I’m not far off from 60, but even now I mostly only sit at the computer because it’s my job (and even then I found the time to walk 7 miles yesterday).

          • No, but what was your point “if only Thanet had beaches and parks about?” For me, I understood your point to mean…this playground does not matter because there are plenty of other places. Please can you explain your original point? My view is young kids will not go walking for 7 miles anyway, and they need spaces to play. Peter, I think you might be out of touch with what it is like to have young children based on your comments.

          • Northdown Park or Palm Bay beach aren’t 7 miles away. When I was a child, as soon as I could walk I’d rather be exploring woodland and beaches than playing on swings and slides, and by the time I was 11 it wasn’t unusual for me to cycle 30 miles on busy roads (there were no cycle paths in the 70s and cycling on pavements was an arrestable offence!).

            As for being “out of touch” with the kids of today, I know of many parents/grandparents who take their offspring on long walks or cycle rides as soon as they can. I may not be a parent myself, but I’m an uncle to 16 nephews/nieces and a great-uncle to several more.

          • You were a child 50 odd years ago. I also remember massive slides and concrete floors. Unfortunately, what you are describing is no longer what happens anymore and is long gone, be it good or bad. Playing outside has massively dropped in terms of percentages for lots of reasons. Kids need playgrounds, and my kids really enjoyed going to the Cliftonville playground when it first opened. Maybe you could take some of your nephews when it is refurbished and see how much fun they have. I will let you have the last comment. That is something you always do on these threads :).

          • This is what happens when you just read the headlines. It is not unsafe at all. The ROSPA report said it needed repairs. Maintenance has not been carried out on the playpark in all the time it has been there. The only money was spent last year replacing the swings instead of repairing them so cost more than necessary. Now they are going to scarp everything and replace with plastic at an even higher expense to the public when if the standard maintenance was carried out then no money would need to be spent all of a sudden. The cabinet member Cllr Kup only wants you to hear part of the story. It is not a part of the funding agreement from KCC that the park must be replaced, it is TDC’s decision to waste most of the funding doing that, rather than spending it fairly on all the playgrounds in Thanet that need maintenance and repairs.
            There are ways of telling non truths made up to look like they are true. It is a scandal that they should blatantly carry this all out without even consultation with the users of the play parks, using time constraints as their excuse.

            Now it has also come to light that TDC have been tearing out the bushes that birds have started nesting in around the perimeter today which is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is obvious to everyone they have started building nests there so it looks this was a deliberate criminal act. This sounds familiar since they have form on doing suspected criminal acts before at the Winter Gardens when Cllr Bob Bayford and Cllr Ash Ashbee promised an internal review. He said: “I want to reassure residents that Thanet District Council is committed to safeguarding our coastline and countryside. Our priority should always be to preserve and enhance Thanet’s biodiversity and natural environment.
            As such, Cllr Ash Ashbee and I have called for an internal review into the hedge maintenance work carried out at the Winter Gardens”

            It is again down to the police to investigate this latest act though. TDC do not stand by their promises made in 2019. Only when it suits themselves.

  2. “Playground company CEO Rinske Wassenaar said 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.”

    Can someone, anyone from TDC please explain to the taxpayers of this septic isle (not a typo) how, when the original manufacturer is quoting such a dramatically low figure to repair and maintain, as opposed to the vast sum quoted to replace the equipment, how do they justify this decision? What possible grounds could TDC have for squandering money which could then have been spent across multiple play sites?

    The play equipment at Lymington Rec in Westgate is way past its best and in dire need of repair/renovation/partial replacement. Same goes for Minnis Bay, Pierremont and, no doubt, countless others. So why not allow the original manufacturer to carry out the repair work and provide a written guarantee of ROSPA compliance upon completion. Then, get the new ROSPA report and, should the equipment not meet standards, don’t pay the company until they’ve completed the works to the required standard, or envoke your rights, as per the robust contract you’ll have no doubt drawn up, given you are such a professional and responsible local authority, and get them back to finish the job.

    There isn’t a day that goes by when TDC doesn’t find some new way of showing their total inability to manage even the most basic of tasks.

    • Repairs would have been funded from the councils own budget, the new equipment from external grant funding. So spend loads of free money rather a little of your own. Sums up the madness of local and central governmen Mentality

      • LC, not quite. This funding only allows for new where an existing playground does not exist. Where playgrounds exist, this funding allows for enlargement and/or refurbishment. The biggest benefit to Thanet would be if the £211K was spent refurbishing as many of our playgrounds as possible. Spending the vast majority on one playground goes against the prime objective of the funding, and replacing an existing one contravenes the stated terms of the funding.

        • Whichever way you want to put it, the council is still choosing to play the system so that it can replace the play area, rather than spend a smaller sum ( that should already have been spent on periodic maintenance) as its the easiest option for them and protects the councils existing budget.

          Bit like having the boiler in your house inspected and being told if you’d serviced each year it’d be perfect but that as it is it needs £200 spent on it or you can get a grant for £3k to replacemit and have it cost you mothing. Obviously you do the latter and congratulate yourself on the savings you made by not having an annual service.

  3. Well said James.

    Perhaps TDC would prefer a much more bland play area – steel, plastic, tarmac – than this one which probably requires more frequent maintenance. Perfectly understandable if so because why should local kids have good stuff to play on just because their parents pay council tax?

  4. The only reason the playground is being closed now is because TDC realise the funding terms from KCC, only allow existing playgrounds to be enlarged or refurbished. They are hoping that KCC might(!) still give them the funding if they close it now for H&S reasons. The original playground provider has seen the last safety report and has given a firm quote for £12K + VAT to refurbish it. That would give the playground at least another 5 years life, so allowing over £195,000 to spread amongst all the playgrounds in Thanet that need it, or to create a completely new playground with what has been too hastily ordered from Kompan. TDC have made a mistake, which if they persist will contradict the stated terms of the funding, creating avoidable financial risk. It will also be destroying an extremely popular playground that is fit for purpose, with none of the H&S items requiring demolition and replacement. The carbon cost of doing so will far exceed 6,000kg and I have seen nothing to reassure me that there will not also be a huge biodiversity loss there. This contradicts everything TDC should be doing at this time and it is not too late to change direction.

  5. Well l will be watching this space, to see if it ever happens, still waiting for the fountain ⛲ in dane Park to be fixed, a few years back TDC said just filling it with plants till the pump is fixed still waiting, never will work again, its what TDC do board it up or rip it down ,l be surprised if they don’t sale the land first.

    • Very true, if it wasn’t for the fact there is also a legal restriction in way of a Covenant on this stretch of cliff top land which would make it useless for most businesses. It is only supposed to be used as leisure or gardens with 4′ height restricted fencing and constructions which TDC is already breaking the terms of. Anyone fancy making a complaint through the courts?

  6. The Viking playground closure also contradicts the whole idea of the funding.
    “By providing funding to enhance community parks, it is anticipated communities
    will be encouraged to utilise outside spaces where the chances of onward
    transmission of COVID-19 are lower when compared to indoor activities.”
    TDC are blundering from one mistake to another.
    The funding has been available since mid Nov’21. What enhancements been undertaken?

  7. This looks worthy of a swampy-style occupation. Anyone up for camping out this half term?! It’s an awful decision not to reinvest in this brilliant park. My children love it and it’s one-of-a-kind.

  8. ‘Pot calling kettle black’ Peter how about focusing on your own unsuccessful unmaintained biodiversity projects. You planted trees beside the Bethesda and they are all dead due to lack of knowledge and care. The planting around the bowls club is no more than a few twigs and are dead. I was shocked to see you were allowed to plant more in Northdown park after the failure of these so called biodiversity projects.

    • Thanks for asking Gracie. The six pine had inadequate root development at the time of planting and we promptly got our money back from the supplier. We will be removing or replacing them shortly, as the Northdown Park planting took priority. I still have a fulltime job and there are only some many hours in the day. Most of the planting around the bowls club is fine and dormant, with watering and mulching resuming when it is needed.

  9. well if they have money to spend, why dont they provide a shelter for the working girls on northdown road ? after all they do sort of provide a service.

  10. Bland, bland, bland – all over Thanet. These people have no idea about ‘iconic’ and ‘character’ when it comes to development or repair.
    Forget maintenance, too expensive – better to neglect and then destroy!
    We have a real deficit of talent and imagination – let alone common sense – in our elected members and senior officers…..they really are a useless shower.

    • Why do you think everything needs to be “iconic” and have “character”? Do people really want to have lots of different styles of building, each shouting”Look at me!”

      The harmony of good architecture will never be attained if architects don’t take account of what is near the building they’re designing.

  11. it dosnt take much to get you to bite does it jim ? and your remark shows what kind of person you are, turning to abuse as you clearly only understand that sort of language , an always right – know all by the sound of it.

    • I have an extensive vocabulary and good command of English language. However, I also believe in saying it as it is. In your case, I believe the old adage “if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck…” is an accurate one. Thus, I call it as I see it and, sometimes, no other word will do. Besides, if it’s good enough for Stephen Fry, it’s certainly good enough for you and me.

      As for being always right, no, I am not, as my wife would tell you. That said, when compared with you, I would say yes, I am more right than wrong. Although, you didn’t set the bar high, so it is an easy contest.

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