Three months to save Letchworth playground after temporary reprieve

PUBLISHED: 16:08 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:28 28 March 2018

Families holding a

Families holding a "play-in" at Letchworth's Linnet Close playground last year. Picture: Helen Oliver

Archant

A beloved Letchworth play area that faces the axe will stay for another three months after a mother’s passionate pleas to councillors last night.

Addressing North Herts District Council’s cabinet about the town’s Linnet Close playground, Helen Oliver spoke against the Green Space Strategy to close “less-used” play areas unless they were taken over by community at no cost to the authority.

She said the implication seemed to be that a community’s lack of funds or expertise to run a play area equated to a lack of care for it – a view she said would be “out of touch” and “callous”.

“We find it hard to believe there’s no way we can help to save the playground with you rather than out on our own,” she said.

“It isn’t an easy loss for our children. My five-year-old still peeps his head around the corner on each trip and asks if it’s still there. Maybe soon it won’t be any more.”

Councillors Jane Gray and Julian Cunningham – respectively responsible for leisure and finance at the Conservative-run council – expressed sympathy for Mrs Oliver’s concern, but said financial pressures meant hard choices.

“I’m very grateful to Mrs Oliver for coming here this evening,” said Mrs Gray. “I share her concern and I hope she can understand how difficult a decision it was.

“Unfortunately we have to look at the bigger picture, to save the larger and more-used play areas and facilities for the greater good.”

Mr Cunningham moved to assuage Mrs Oliver’s fears that green spaces like the Linnet Close playground site might be sold off, saying: “We’re not going to sell them for housing.”

The councillors ultimately decided to grant a three-month stay of execution for the Linnet Close playground during which more third-party plans can be submitted. The same stay of execution was made for Symonds Road play area in Hitchin.

The district council last year called for community groups across North Herts to take over the upkeep of certain play areas, with NHDC officers available to lend advice and expertise.

Mrs Gray told the meeting that communication overall had been “excellent” and a lot of people had shown interest – with sustainable solutions found for seven out of 13 areas at no cost to the council.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Rosehill playground in Hitchin is set to stay for a maximum of four more years – but will be closed sooner if a new play area is built as part of the planned Highover Farm development.

The others – Linnet Close, Jackmans recreation ground and Oaktree Close play areas in Letchworth, Dacre Road and Symonds Road playgrounds in Hitchin, and Ivel Road play area in Baldock – will soon be reverted to green space.

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