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Call for play areas to be reopened amid fears over children’s wellbeing

PUBLISHED: 15:58 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:05 10 July 2020

Norwich City Council's play areas have been shut since March. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Norwich City Council's play areas have been shut since March. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

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A call has been made for Norwich City Council to reopen its playgrounds and to trust parents to sanitise the hands of children using them.

James Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norwich City Council. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodJames Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norwich City Council. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

While the government said playgrounds could reopen last weekend, after coronavirus lockdown restrictions had shut them in March, Norwich City Council took the decision to keep the ones it runs shut for now.

Matthew Packer, cabinet member for health and wellbeing at City Hall, previously said the decision would be reviewed after two weeks - and that remains the case.

He had said it had not been an easy decision to keep them closed, but with 1,700 pieces of equipment across 81 playgrounds, it would take time and planning to work out the implications of how to re-open safely.

But James Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norwich City Council, urged the council to get the playgrounds open as soon as possible.

He said: “Parents have been saying to me that the levels of virus are very low in the community, but their children are feeling the pressure of being inside.

Matthew Packer, Norwich City Council cabinet member for health and wellbeing. Pic: Labour Party.Matthew Packer, Norwich City Council cabinet member for health and wellbeing. Pic: Labour Party.

“They’re telling me that they’re quite happy to take the responsibility for sanitising their children’s hands before and after using the equipment.

“For instance, in Eaton Park, the skate park is open and it’s frustrating for children and their parents that the play area isn’t.

“There are other councils which have opened their play areas, so where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I don’t think there needs to be a member of council staff stood at every play area ready to clean the equipment after it’s been used, I think there’s a responsible approach which could be taken.

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“Clearly there is a balance to be struck, but there is a risk to the mental and developmental wellbeing of children by not reopening.”

But Mr Packer reiterated that they would stay closed for now. He said: “The mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of every single person in the city is our absolute priority and at the forefront while we’re making any decisions on action to take during this pandemic, and at all times.

“Our parks – spaces we all hold so very dear in Norwich – play a critical role in people’s lives, for leisure, exercise, as well as the emotional, social and physical development of children.

“This is why have continued to invest in them and have done everything we can to keep them open during the pandemic, while restricting the use of certain facilities and equipment to limit the risk of the spread of the virus. Other councils have not kept their parks open during this crisis.

“We have seen the sacrifices that members of our community have and continue to make; whether it is our wonderful NHS staff and key workers, or residents who’ve been shielding for extended periods.

“It is only right that Norwich City Council opens its services in the most responsible manner for its residents so that the sacrifices made by others are not put at risk.

“Re-opening 81 playgrounds with 1,700 pieces of equipment cannot be rushed and must be done so in a responsible manner, we must consider all factors thoroughly and in detail.”

He said the council had received positive feedback about keeping them shut, but others had expressed disappointment.

He said: “To those people, we hear what you’re saying and we do understand, but I want to reassure you the safety of all residents is of absolute concern, the children who use playgrounds, as well as the other people who they come into contact with.

“As previously stated, we will review this decision again after July 18, which is two weeks after the last major ease of lockdown restrictions.

“As a father of three under sevens, I truly do appreciate the desire and need for the playgrounds to be re-opened. We will reopen them when we are confident it is safe to do so.”


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