Providing play parks in estates, towns and villages could shortly become a thing of the past.
A new play strategy is expected to see larger ‘play centres’ constructed as a means to promote community integration.
All existing play parks across the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon borough will remain.
But this strategy would be a change of thinking on how to move forward in terms of meeting future needs in the years ahead.
A report is expected to go before Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s strategy and community planning committee early next month.
The process, which will not be concluded until the spring of 2017, will recommend a movement towards other models of play.
It is part of a process of bringing the play strategies of each of the three council areas into one new plan.
Recognising that each of the legacy councils play policies were unique to their individual circumstances, and given the high proportion of children and young people living across the new council area, it was felt timely to give consideration to the development of a new overarching play strategy for the area.
The report going to council in January says it is likely the council’s new strategy will advocate “the reduction in the number of play parks and the development of more strategically placed ‘play centres'”.
It adds: “This would entail reducing the number of smaller local play parks across the borough and constructing larger, strategically located facilities which provide for more play value.
“In addition there will be more of an emphasis on community-based play and the reallocation of resources toward this model of delivery.”
As the process progresses, the report states there will be a need to carry out “more detailed scoping and analysis of the current play provision across the borough”.
It continues: “In addition there will be a need to accurately determine and forecast the demand for play. There is currently limited capacity within the organisation to deliver this type of detailed work and it is likely that members will be asked to allocate specific resources to ensure this work is carried out.
“This may take the form of a dedicated play team made up of current staff but whose duties would be exclusively dedicated to play. Alternatively members may choose to engage a consultant to carry out the associated work.”
The new council has an existing portfolio of outdoor fixed equipment play areas, ranging from small play parks in rural locations to larger urban-based play parks which offer a range of fixed play and free play (green space) opportunities.
In addition, pre-merger Craigavon Borough Council had in place a number of play schemes that currently operate from five locations within the wider Craigavon area.
Within the old Armagh City and District Council area there were 27 play areas and 32 in the Banbridge District Council area. In the former Craigavon Borough Council area there are currently 40 play areas, totalling 99 across the new borough council.
The new council wants to increase the range of activities for young and old.
Traditionally the three legacy councils have focused play investment on the installation and maintenance of fixed play areas.
The report states: “Whilst acknowledging the importance of fixed play areas they can be limiting in terms of restricting the child’s ability to direct their own play experience, can be restrictive for disabled children and are not always conducive to meeting the play needs of older children.
“An opportunity exists for the council, in addition to fixed play provision, to develop a range of innovative, adaptable and cost-effective approaches to play, offering an increased range of activities for children and young people.
“Examples of play approaches may include volunteer-led street and community play, natural play, mobile play pods, play schemes and playrangers.
“The opportunity for play to enhance inter-generational understanding and increase activity levels for all should also not be underestimated.
“A number of highly successful projects have taken place which have brought children, young people and older people together to explore a range of common interests, ranging from older people teaching old-style traditional games to the younger generation and young people teaching older people about the use of IT and smart technology.
An independent audit is expected to get underway shortly. This will focus on existing facilities – how many there are, where they are located, how accessible they are to users and an assessment of their quality.
An effective ‘Play Partnership’ – to oversee the creation and delivery of the new strategy – will be set up. It will include ‘appropriate partners’, with an action plan completed by April.
Formal frameworks for consultation will be drawn up and a number of workshop focus groups to draft the strategy for consultation.
It is expected to be consulted on between September and November next year and any changes put in place by March 2017, to coincide with the launch of the new strategy.
In addition to the provision of play areas the council provides play opportunities through community services. These would include Summer Schemes with the cost in the region of £200,000 per year.