Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Playground push brought forward

adventure playground
10 areas are being funded to build a new adventure playground

All councils in England will be able to access cash for playgrounds from the spring, as ministers bring forward spending to try to boost the economy.

They will be eligible for at least 1m under a national play strategy aimed at making areas "child friendly".

The money is part of a 235m programme, from which ministers have made 30m available early.

But the Liberal Democrats say figures show the government has yet to make good on earlier similar promises.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls says play is good for children themselves but also their families and communities.

"By rolling out our programme more quickly to local authorities, so that every local authority is offered funding by April 2009, we can get better facilities available to children sooner, and support the economy at the same time," he said.

The play strategy formed part of the Children's Plan, published a year ago, which ministers said was aimed at "making the country the best place in the world for children to live".

Under the play plans, 10 local authorities will receive an average of 2.5m to spend on supervised adventure playgrounds and other play areas.

Officials say 63 local areas have already received their funding and 89 more will do so from April next year.

The 30m being brought forward to next year had been due to be spent in 2010 and 2011 - and covers dozens of local authorities.

But the Liberal Democrats have accused ministers of failing to keep their last pledge, seven years ago, to provide 200m for children's play facilities.

They say that information revealed in a Parliamentary Answer shows that only 40m has been spent and the total funding has been scaled back by almost 25%, to 155m.

The Lib Dem culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster said: "Sadly today's announcement is nothing new.

"Ministers have claimed many times that improving children's facilities are a priority but we've yet to see the government deliver."

'Safe and interesting'

The new play strategy follows a public consultation in which 9,000 children, young people, parents and local professionals gave their opinions on what facilities there should be.

The strategy - formally launched on 10 December - says:

  • Every residential area should have a variety of free places to play, supervised and unsupervised
  • Local neighbourhoods should be safe and interesting places to play
  • Routes to play areas should be safe and accessible
  • Parks and open spaces should be attractive and welcoming, well maintained and well used
  • People should accept that children and young people play in public spaces
  • Children and young people should play in a way that respects other people and property
  • Youngsters should be involved in developing play spaces
  • Play spaces should be accessible to all children and young people

The Children's Minister, Delyth Morgan, said: "We know that children need play to develop the skills for a successful future.

"Through the play strategy, we are ensuring that all our new investment is shaped by local consultation, and we are supporting community-led projects, including through new funding to support our key delivery partners in the third sector.

"In addition to investing in new play areas to meet immediate needs we are also laying the foundations to ensure that play becomes a greater priority across local children's services and throughout local planning and delivery over the longer term."

Adrian Voce of Play England, part of the National Children's Bureau, said: "This strategy sets out a vision for the sort of neighbourhoods that we would all want for our children, but which have been increasingly denied them.

"Local places to play that are inclusive, fun and adventurous and a wider public realm that responds to all children's needs for safety and access are at the heart of the government's ambition to make England the best place in the world to grow up."

The 10 areas receiving up to 2.5m are: Blackpool, Cornwall, Kirklees, Lambeth, Luton, Merton, Newcastle, Oxfordshire, Sandwell, Wigan.

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