Mid and East Antrim councillors warned over potential park closures amid funding shortfall

Mid and East Antrim councillors have backed a community consultation over the future of play parks in the borough that could result in closures.
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In a report to the borough council’s Neighbourhoods and Communities Committee, councillors were warned failure to act could result in “enforced closure in due course due to health and safety concerns”.

An independent annual inspection of play parks in March has highlighted a number of sites with “significant issues of concern with regard to health and safety”, the report stated.

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Mid and East Antrim Borough Council maintains and manages 67 play parks and has spent £3.3m on refurbishments since 2019.

Play park at Bardic Drive, Antiville, Larne. Photo by: GooglePlay park at Bardic Drive, Antiville, Larne. Photo by: Google
Play park at Bardic Drive, Antiville, Larne. Photo by: Google

The report presented to the committee at a meeting on Tuesday evening said: “The transformation of play parks listed will provide significant financial savings. The play parks identified have ongoing issues for a variety of reasons which result in significant investment each year to ensure safety for users.”

The report noted councillors have already prioritised sites for investment and others for potential transformation during consultation for the Fixed Play Investment Framework 2023. It was stated “transformation of play parks is only considered when a play park has reached the end of its life and is no longer fit for purpose or safe to use”.

The four-week consultation in December will be with local users through signage at the playgrounds under threat of closure. Councillors in the district will be notified. The council says the proposal will be reviewed on completion of the consultation to be followed “if successful” by “closure and removal of equipment to ensure site safety”.

Grass Area

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In Larne, a park identified for closure is the playground at Bardic Drive in Antiville where the council says equipment is “no longer fit for purpose” and would require a “full refurbishment”. The site is likely to become a grass area.

Newpark play park in Magheramorne will be monitored until the next “major repair” is required when it is likely to close. The council says both Ransevyn Park and Windsor Park in Whitehead are “reaching end of life status”. It is anticipated that both will become grass areas.

Carnlough’s “natural” play park has “significant anti-social behaviour issues” and equipment is “no longer fit for purpose”, the council says. It is one of three parks in the village. The council has indicated it will “revert to natural habitat” with tree planting, if the consultation is “in agreement”.

Other sites listed for closure are Moat Play Park in Ballymena which is expected to “revert to a heritage site”; Smithfield/Lamont which may become a “community orchard”; Ahoghill Community Play Park; Maine Play Park and Maybin Play Park, also in the Ballymena area.

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In Carrickfergus, discussions are expected to take place with local stakeholders over the future of Sunnylands Play Park. Windmill will be monitored while the council explores investment opportunity through local developments.

Coast Road DUP Councillor Angela Smyth asked if minor work and a clean-up would be appropriate at Ransevyn Park. Lindsay Houston, the council’s parks and open space development manager, said: “They will all need substantial investment to try to bring them up to standard to ensure they are suitable for everybody.”

She indicated the consultation process will be held to discuss plans with local people. Larne Lough Alliance Cllr Maeve Donnelly said more accessible play equipment is needed in Whitehead.

Clean Up

Knockagh DUP Cllr Marc Collins stated: “Some on the list for transformation, I would be reluctant to support. The Windmill report says the park is at the end of its life. It does not seem that way when you are there. Would it not need a clean up and fresh lick of paint? Would that not suffice for some of these parks?”

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Cllr Collins was advised equipment is “becoming dangerous”. “We do not have the resources and budget to replace equipment or continue to patch it.”

Recently the council’s interim chief executive Valerie Watts confirmed the local authority is facing a £7.2m shortfall in its finances.

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£7.2m deficit confirmed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Cllr Collins said he was “happy to start the process and see what local people’s thoughts are”.

Carrick Castle Alderman Billy Ashe MBE commented that Windmilll and Sunnylands play parks are “in different areas of Carrickfergus”. “Windmill, I still think is one of our better ones. There is no equipment closed off or removed. Anything there at the minute is currently up to health and safety standard.”

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He pointed out there will be several hundred new houses constructed in the vicinity of Windmill park and he suggested the council should approach the developers for a contribution to “try to get it upgraded rather than taking stuff out”.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter