Child obesityPlans to build up to 1,300 playgrounds have been axed as part of the Government’s public spending cuts.

The Department for Education has frozen grants to 132 local authorities in England to construct a generation of new play areas, many of which were originally designed by children.

Officials insisted the building programme – launched under Labour – was “unrealistic” and funding would be cut to protect frontline services.

But parents and charities branded the move a “knee jerk reaction” and said it risked escalating levels of childhood obesity.

Betty McBride, policy director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “When only one in 10 youngsters get enough exercise, playgrounds can provide a cheap, fun and easy way for children to get active outdoors.

“In light of this, the decision to stop work on new playgrounds is a worrying example of a knee jerk reaction to cost cutting.

“It’ll end up costing society more in the long run as we continue to fight against childhood obesity.”

The £235m Playbuilder scheme, which started more than two years ago, was designed to develop 3,500 community playgrounds.

Each local council was given funding to build 22 play areas by 2011.

Only developments where construction has already started will definitely go ahead. It is unclear how many planned playgrounds will be scrapped, but the figure is believed to be around 1,300.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has singled out play as a key area affected by the cuts in order to protect frontline education services.

He has also scrapped Government targets for the number of play facilities councils must provide and removed rules protecting playground building budgets, saying any unspent money could be retained by his department.

A Department for Education spokesman said the Government put plans on hold after it inherited “unrealistic spending commitments,” insisting it was only committed to “affordable” investment.

“We are currently talking to local authorities across the country to determine the level of play capital funding for this year that has either not already been spent, or is not yet contractually committed, and which can be saved,” he said.

“We’ve asked local authorities to put on hold projects where contracts have been entered into but where works have not yet begun.”

But the decision has frustrated parents.

Emma Kane, a parent, who worked with children in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, to set up one playground scheme, said: “It’s insane to cut what is such a small amount of money.

“There’s lots of disappointed children out there, they keep asking me what’s happening and I just don’t know what to say to them.

“Furthermore, as everyone knows, playgrounds fight childhood obesity. What does it say about the government’s strategy to cut projects that promote both health and communities working together?”

Steve Chown, programme development manager at the charity Play England, said: “Communities are going to be disappointed that these play areas that they have worked so hard to set up are not now going forward.

“There would have been nine months to go on the programme, so there would have been quite a lot of organisations who were just ready to start building.”

Do you feel the Government are right to axe funding for 1,300 playgrounds nationwide? Is it too early to be concerned with childhood ability, and what other measures could be taken? Have your say by dropping your comments below!

Source: Daily Telegraph

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