Decision on proposed Hitchin play area delayed due to safety concerns
PUBLISHED: 17:50 18 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:50 18 November 2019
Planning permission for a controversial children's play area in Hitchin has been delayed, amid unresolved child safety fears.
Swinburne Recreation Ground - off Swinburne Avenue - has been proposed as the location for a new play area in Westmill, with the existing facility in John Barker Place set to be demolished as part of a £20 million regeneration of the estate.
The Planning Control Committee narrowly voted to defer approval of the site - by a majority of eight votes to six - after proposers failed to fully allay safety risks.
The application, submitted by housing association Settle in July, has been attacked by campaigners and residents who claim the site is out of view from the main estate, and will leave children unsupervised and exposed to antisocial behaviour.
In a letter addressed to NHDC, Herts police crime prevention officer Mark Montgomery raised "substantive concerns" over the Swinburne location, arguing that "the site is remote, and has poor natural surveillance", also confirming that officers have had issues with "local youths using the field for smoking drugs."
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Mr Montgomery has since added that police concerns could be "partially mitigated" if CCTV and appropriate lighting were included in the application.
Councillor David Levett - who proposed the deferral - said he would "find it difficult to go along with anything where there is a safeguarding risk police have not categorically denied." Another councillor added that "he couldn't visualise any play area as remote at this in the local area."
There was further agreement that a detailed discussion of 24-hour CCTV and artificial lighting would be necessary before a decision is reached.
Councillor Ian Mantle highlighting the potential threat of light pollution, as well as raising concerns about "a play area which depends for its viability on having CCTV being monitored while children are playing there."
It was also noted that phase three of Settle's development plan includes a second play area to be erected on the estate, but since this would not be completed for at least "three to five years", some councillors argued this would be too long for children to go without a facility.
In July this year, Settle announced a £20 million investment into the John Barker Place regeneration, which will see 83 new homes built across a three-phased development programme.
Subject to planning approval, phase one of the programme - to be completed by 2022 - will see the existing children's play area at the heart of the estate replaced by housing.