HUNDREDS of children and parents in Northumberland have been left bitterly disappointed after plans to spend £441,000 on transforming play facilities were shelved on Government orders.
Youngsters in 13 towns and villages across the county were set to get new or upgraded play areas in the latest round of funding from the national Playbuilder programme.
Now all of the projects have been put on hold because of the coalition Government’s need to reduce public expenditure and cut the national deficit.
Only last week Northumberland County Council gave a pledge the 13 schemes would go ahead – despite the massive spending squeeze and a ruling that the money could be used to prop up other council services.
But now the Department for Education has ordered an immediate stop to all Playbuilder work until further notice, as the funding is required to help make savings.
The affected play schemes include the Northumberland College (£47,500), Beacon Hill play space in Cramlington (£46,667), Pegswood community volunteers (£45,000), Ovingham Parish Council (£42,500), Shilbottle Grange adventure playground (£32,000) and Horncliffe playground group (£27,236).
The council has written to managers of each project telling them not to incur any expenditure, or signs any contracts relating to the schemes.
The embargo has come as a bitter blow to parents in Acklington, who have been working for a year on plans to build an accessible and safe play area for the village’s youngsters. Work was due to start within weeks on the scheme, which involves an adventure-style playground with earth mounds, tunnels and facilities like a pirates’ hideout to encourage role-playing.
Yesterday villager Liz Newton, 46, whose daughter Katie, 10, is one of those who would use the playground, said: “This is an enormous blow for us and the children who have been involved in the process. We are now having to say that it might not happen. Acklington is not a location that attracts this kind of grant and we were absolutely amazed and delighted to get the Playbuilder funding. There is nowhere in the village for our kids to play independently and safely and this scheme would have put that right.”
The DfE has said it will cover the cost of spending already incurred for completed sites, and sites where ground works or building has already stared.
Yesterday Coun Jim Smith, county council executive member for customer relations and culture, said supporting community-led play projects would remain a priority, but Government funding was required to pay for it.
“A great deal of time and effort has been put into developing these schemes, the expectations of the children have been raised and the groups are relying on this money. We are extremely disappointed by the latest news on the play capital fund, and we will do everything we can to try to secure necessary funding.”