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I have written many blogs over the past couple of years extolling the proven virtues of play for children of all ages.

It is a vital part of childhood – key to physical, mental, emotional and intellectual development. It also fuels little people's imagination and creativity.

How sad then to discover that new research by the Association of Play Industries (API) has revealed that playgrounds continue to close at an alarming rate.

In April 2017, the association's Nowhere to Play report first uncovered the state of playground decline in England. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the API has once again asked local authorities to disclose current and planned playground closures and found:

  • In 2016/17 local authorities closed 63 playgrounds and in 2017/18 a further 70 playgrounds have been closed
  • Since 2014 local authorities have closed a total of 347 playgrounds across England
  • There will be a decrease in spend on playgrounds of over £13m each year on average across England
  • Local authorities estimate a decrease in their spending on playgrounds of £25m by 2021

API Chairman Mark Hardy says: "Something we all took for granted – safe, local and free spaces in which to play – is disappearing. Our latest research shows a very worrying picture indeed and, unless action is taken now, it seems we are in danger of losing playgrounds. Let’s not forget that when a playground is neglected and closed it is often lost forever.

"The impact on the NHS of childhood obesity, poor fitness and mental health problems is sizeable. One of the root causes is that children are not playing outside as freely as they once did and this is partly because of the lack of local, high-quality and safe areas available for them to play in and socialise. A relatively small investment by Government could have huge social and health benefits for years to come.

“Outdoor play is essential to children’s development. They need playgrounds to develop vital social skills and these community spaces have a central role in children’s physical and mental health. In the midst of an obesity epidemic and a mental health crisis we are calling on the Government to make a significant and sustained investment in our playgrounds before it is too late."

I endorse all Mr Hardy's comments as do many others, including Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England.

She says: "This research comes at a time when we have the least physically active generation of children ever and when our focus should be on doing more to encourage and enable children to play out, not less.

"I would like to see some of the proceeds of the sugar tax going towards promoting play and activity outside of school, including helping to make sure children have better access to playgrounds and parks. Play provision should also be strategically planned as part of each local authority’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and councils should be ensuring that adequate space for children to play is factored into new residential developments."   

  • The Association of Play Industries (API), founded in 1984, is the lead trade body within the play sector and campaigns at the highest levels for policy recognition for play. Its members are leading manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of both outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing.