A new report has shown that the local authorities have received 28,734 reports of vandalism on their playparks over the last five years, with fees for the maintenance of UK playparks topping £290 million in that time.
That is according to new Freedom of Information data gathered by Aggregate Industries, the UK’s leading manufacturer and supplier of sustainable construction and building materials.
The data shows that Bedford Borough Council received 13,609 reports in the last five years, while Dudley Metropolitan Council and Portsmouth City Council make up the top 10 list of councils who responded to the request.
Reports of vandalism in the last five years**
Bedford Borough Council
|Dudley Metropolitan Borough
|Portsmouth City Council
|Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council
|Halton Borough Council
|Darlington Borough Council
|Wolverhampton City Council
|Crawley Borough Council
|Gravesham Borough Council
Sunderland City Council
Vandalism includes smaller measures such as graffiti and broken glass, as well as damage to equipment. Some councils may conduct proactive measures to detect vandalism, whereas others may rely on reports from the public only.
Bedford Borough Council has revealed that it has invested over £1 million of extra funding to keep its facilities open and to deliver essential repairs.
A spokesperson said: “The reason we have a significantly higher number of reports of vandalism is that we have an incredibly proactive inspection regime whereby we quickly identify and rectify any necessary repairs, renewals, or instances of graffiti or damage.
“We take extra care to provide play facilities instead of closing them down or not recording and fixing the damage.
“This significant investment in high-quality equipment is important not just for family recreation but also tackling issues such as social exclusion or keeping children active.”
While Bedford Borough Council has revealed it has invested over £1 million in the maintenance of its parks, that figure is actually modest compared to some of the fees UK local authorities are having to stump up to keep parks not only in good condition but open, with Birmingham City Council having to spend 12 times more to keep their parks open.
|Money spent on upkeep and refurbishment of parks in the last five years
|Birmingham City Council
|London Borough of Lambeth
|Leeds City Council
|Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
|Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council
|Aberdeen City Council
|Telford & Wrekin Council
|Mid & East Antrim
|London Borough of Camden
Recurring vandalism has also proven a significant issue in children’s playparks and not in one isolated location.
A quick Google search highlights that vandalism, including damaging expensive equipment worth thousands of pounds, setting fires, and graffiti, is not only making playparks dangerous for families but is also resulting in huge repair bills for councils.
In April 2022, Syston Town Council reported that a wave of ‘petty and mindless’ vandalism was threatening the future of its playparks, citing a series of destructive acts recently, ranging from play areas’ surfaces being damaged as well as bins and fences being smashed.
They are also one of many councils that said it was struggling with finding drugs paraphernalia and broken glass in public places while noting there was a ‘noticeable’ rise in anti-social-behaviour during the school holidays.
Aggregate Industries is a key supplier of materials for sports and play areas across the UK – contributing materials such as stone, sands, surfacing, and concrete. And the business, which supports many local initiatives around the UK via our community funding scheme, conducted this research to get a better understanding of where such facilities were in terms of budget priorities, particularly to local authorities which have faced ongoing budget restraints.
As a business, we also support many local initiatives around the UK via our community funding scheme.
Reflecting on the recent insights, Kirstin McCarthy, Director of Sustainability of Aggregate Industries, said: “We know that playgrounds and access to them are an essential provision for young families – not only for physical wellbeing but also mental and emotional well-being too.
“We understand budgets are tight and funding to local governments is squeezed but naturally to see the closure of so many playgrounds is still surprising.
“Supporting the development of local communities is one of the key goals for Aggregate Industries and our sites actively contribute to the social and economic well-being of surrounding communities.
“We have worked in partnership with our local stakeholders providing specialist surfacing, concrete, and aggregates for local playgrounds, skateparks, and schools and see the huge positive difference it can make.
“Anecdotally we are aware of an increasing number of requests for funds to support community and school play projects as well as grassroots sports initiatives and we want to do what we can to ensure access to good facilities isn’t a postcode lottery. Every child deserves to play.”
Back in 2020, The Association of Play Industries (API) launched its #PlayMustStay campaign, which showed there had been a 44 % decrease in spending on public play areas since 2017 as local authorities across the UK were forced to make difficult decisions about where and how they best spend their budgets.
In line with that, the API has been campaigning for the introduction of a national Government funding pot for the play industry, with Mark believing £150 million would be required to reverse the playpark closures that have taken place over the last decade.
Mark Hardy, Chair of the Association of Play Industries (API), said: “Maintenance fees for these facilities are significant. A local authority typically has a budget for this but these budgets have gone through periods of reduction.
“Our data would suggest that the levels of reduction have bottomed out which is a good thing. However, it still means that local authorities have got to decide how they spend that money most effectively.
“If they have got to send maintenance people around play areas and maintain them every week, replacing chains and seats, removing graffiti, and repairing damaged areas constantly, they are going to burn through that pot of money.
“Instead, what we are seeing is a shift towards removing those smaller play areas that are constantly being damaged and replacing them with two or three large, high-quality facilities. This reduces the level of vandalism and the fees being paid on upkeep – a win-win for local authorities.
“If a local authority wants to create a football pitch, they have the ability to go to other entities such as Sport England and apply for assistance. But there is no centralised funding stream for play and no play policy.
“We believe that the Government needs to make available a specific funding stream and according to our data, it would need to be in the region of £100–£150 million to simply reverse the closures that have taken place over the last ten years.”
Reviewing the data, Dr Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter said: “Outdoor play provides opportunities in terms of exploring different emotions, feelings, and movements with your body and your mind.
“It’s about playing with excitement, thrill, and fear. Our research proposes that having those opportunities helps to prevent mental health problems in children, particularly anxiety and depression.”
“It’s problematic if children don’t have a place to go to play that’s safe. Playgrounds have a very important role, as they are the number one place for children to play when they’re not home.
“If we take them away, we remove opportunities, and as a result what we get are children who stay indoors more, who are less physically active, who get less vitamin D, and are missing out on those opportunities to learn about uncertainty, risk, challenge and things they might experiment with at playgrounds.
“They’re also missing out on opportunities to make new friends, socialise, and feel connected with other people in their area.”