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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.