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The city council of London removed playgrounds in order to construct new housing, but later faced financial issues.
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The city council of London removed playgrounds in order to construct new housing, but later faced financial issues.

Residents in the southern part of London report that their kids no longer engage in outdoor activities due to the removal of shared areas and play areas for the construction of new housing. These spaces were then left abandoned and covered with boards when Southwark council faced financial constraints.

The Bells Gardens and Lindley estates in Peckham underwent significant demolition by the council starting in August of last year. However, the construction was halted in January due to financial difficulties caused by increasing interest rates. The only remaining feature from the previous play area is a small field enclosed by barriers and hidden from view of the residential buildings.

Specialists caution that the barricaded region, described by residents as a disgrace, highlights a severe problem in the financing of social housing and also emphasizes the pressing requirement for improved legislation to safeguard areas for children to play.

One mother, named Rosie, with two kids ages six and three, shares that she heavily utilized the playground for her children’s playtime. She found it to be very convenient for them to release their energy. There were also many older children who had their own independence and would play together. This is similar to her own childhood experience. She used to watch them play from her window, but now they have all grown up and moved on.

She is disappointed with the council’s actions. “I believe they do not have children because they allowed this to occur. Or if they do, their children do not reside here, so it does not impact them.”

Hoarding around site in Southwark

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The Southwark council expresses deep disappointment in having to halt the construction, which was a promise to construct numerous new affordable homes in the upcoming years.

Helen Dennis, a member of the council and part of the cabinet responsible for new housing and sustainable development, informed the Guardian that the council is facing rising expenses. She explained that rising inflation, substantially higher construction costs, and increased interest rates since the government’s mini-budget last year have forced councils nationwide to alter their plans.

The people living in Bells Gardens collaborated enthusiastically with us to determine the future plans for the estate. It is truly disheartening. We will be installing a playground and putting in our best efforts to resume progress as soon as possible.

The community voiced their objections during the planning stage, and if the project had been completed, it would have provided a purpose-built play area of 1,575 square meters for approximately 600 households. According to the mayor’s London plan, there should be a minimum of 10 square meters of play space per child, but the demand for more compact constructions often results in developers not meeting this requirement.

The committee responsible for overseeing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities is currently investigating the matter of safeguarding areas for children to play. As part of this inquiry, they are gathering testimony from planners, play specialists, and psychologists.

The construction of the housing was planned as a component of a contentious method called “infill building.” This approach is considered crucial in addressing the urgent need for affordable homes as it utilizes land that is already owned by local authorities. The shortage of affordable homes is a major issue nationwide, with one out of every 23 children in London being homeless. In Southwark alone, there are 15,000 individuals on the housing waiting list, including numerous families who are currently residing in bed and breakfast establishments.

Maryanne Vanson with her daughter on the balcony of her flatView image in fullscreen

However, local inhabitants express the urgent need for green areas to accommodate families residing in apartments without access to gardens. Maryanne Vanson, a resident of a fourth-floor apartment with five children, believes that a resolution should be found that does not encroach on the limited space of those who are already lacking. “I acknowledge the demand for housing, as I am personally experiencing overcrowding. However, we must not deprive ourselves of green areas and play spaces, as they are already scarce in this community.”

According to architect Dinah Bornat, the Guardian reports that there will be a pause in the construction of new housing projects. She believes that what has occurred on this development is a tangible representation of a larger issue in the housing industry, which is leaving numerous children without a place to call home. Bornat expresses that the current funding model for social housing, known as the cross-subsidy model, is not effective. She predicts that there will be similar situations in the future, as funding for housing projects becomes scarce.

If there are delays or issues with funding for construction projects, play areas can be significantly impacted. In New Cross, south London, residents expressed their dissatisfaction last year when Peabody failed to return their park after using it to store building materials for multiple years.

Sian Berry, a member of the London Assembly, stated that there must be designated measures in place to safeguard play areas during times of crisis caused by developments. She expressed concern over the negative impact on London communities, as this issue is prevalent in other housing estates facing demolition and reconstruction.

“If essential facilities are destroyed and there is a delay, we require the mayor to implement a policy that prioritizes the restoration of these vital spaces. As the one who funds these projects, the mayor has the power to ensure that contingency plans are in place to safeguard community facilities.”

Bernice Miller, the organizer of sports and arts programs for children in the community, expressed her disappointment, stating that the situation on this estate is unacceptable. After numerous discussions with residents, they had finally agreed to include play areas in their housing project. However, all efforts were in vain as the council informed them in January that the work may not resume for another two years.

The opportunity for unstructured play is no longer available due to the lack of space for gathering, especially for younger individuals. Additionally, the primary dog walking area has been closed off, leaving the remaining spaces littered with dog feces.

Recently, Miller was informed that her request for ongoing funding for the arts and sports programs she oversees was denied by the Southwark council. She emphasizes the pressing need for a designated play area for children and requests that the council remove the fencing and provide land for this purpose.

Source: theguardian.com