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Wandsworth defends pay-to-play park scheme

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Wandsworth LBC has been criticised for its plans to charge children £2.50 to use an adventure playground in a borough park.

The council claims the fee at the “almost unique facility” is being brought in for the Battersea Park play area at weekends is because on Saturdays and Sundays half of the families attending it come from other parts of the city.

Wandsworth council tax payers foot the bill for its upkeep of more than £200,000 a year.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the move left him “deeply concerned”, while hundreds of people signed a petition against the charge on the council’s website.

Mr Livingstone said: “Only the Conservative Party could consider charging kids to play. I believe London’s parks and playgrounds should be free for London’s families and I am deeply concerned at this attempt by the Conservatives to turn publicly-funded playgrounds into areas which only the rich and privileged can enjoy.”

He added that he feared the “appalling proposal” meant that Conservative councillor Eddie Lister, who is leaving his position as leader of Wandsworth to become London mayor Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, would “drive through a hard-right agenda at City Hall.”

The council said the supervised centre for five to 16-year-olds “boasts some of the most challenging and hi-tech play equipment found anywhere in London or the south-east” and also hosts dancing, music and arts workshops.

Its children’s services spokeswoman, Kathy Tracey (Con), said the proposal had been made because of the “difficult economic situation”. Cllr Tracey said: “While we are maintaining our facilities, other councils are simply closing theirs.

“Introducing a pilot charging scheme at weekends will allow us to carry on investing in the centre, recoup some of those costs and allow us to continue providing the best value for money we can for our council tax payers.

“At less than half the price of a child’s cinema ticket we certainly do not believe the fee is excessive, and given that children can spend all day at the centre enjoying a wide range of supervised activities we think this represents great value for money for parents.

“There is also of course a question of fairness that council tax payers in Wandsworth should not have to shoulder the entire burden of funding a resource that is enjoyed by thousands of families who do not live in the borough and therefore do not at the moment pay a penny towards its upkeep.”

Its “rough and tumble” nature meant supervisors were necessary and the site also needed a high level of maintenance, she added.  

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