OPPOSITION councillors have been taking the ruling administration to task over plans to replace the region’s small playparks with larger, more centralised playparks.

In May Scottish Borders Council agreed plans to consult on the closure of 74 small playparks it says are underused and falling into disrepair. 

Instead, the council plans to spend £5m over the next decade on six large playparks, three skateparks and four fitness shelters.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Wednesday, opposition councillors asked difficult questions of the administration about the plans.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall queried how the decision was made, as the plans appear to have come from a working group of councillors and council officers without public or press scrutiny.

In reply, the administration’s executive member for neighbourhoods and locality services, Sandy Aitchison, said: “On November 6, 2018, the convener, David Parker, issued an email to all members outlining the current status of the play park investment proposals advising that discussions were continuing between himself, the lead officer Jason Hedley and various members regarding specific investment proposals in specific areas which had been outlined in both the original report to council and the convener’s email.”

Stuart Marshall said: “Can the executive member confirm that he and his fellow administration members support the removal of the reportedly obsolete play areas and that this action will, as stated, ‘improve community wellbeing and enhance activity levels for all ages, benefitting the health of the young people of the Borders’?’”

To which councillor Aitchison replied: “I can assure you that local members have been involved in any of the decision making process and the placement of the new playparks in the areas where that is happening.

“Council officers went and did what we told them to do: they went to these areas and assessed all of the playparks. 

“What we had to do was get to a position of neutrality where we show the cost of maintenance against usage.

“If we install new, we have to get rid of old, and I’m sorry but that’s just a fact of life, and it’s a fact of financial life.

“This is list is a consultation list, not a closure list.”

Scottish Borders Council recently spent £342,000 on a new playpark at Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre, near Ancrum, which follows on from new parks built in Galashiels, Oxton, and Stow. 

The council also opened up a new playpark in Hawick in 2017 as part of the regeneration of Wilton Lodge Park, and Coldstream is set to be next to receive a new playpark with a £250,000 facility set to open in Home Park at the end of the month.

Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, who is also leader of the council’s SNP opposition, asked how much it would cost to maintain the 11 parks in Tweeddale which appear on the closure consultation list.

Councillor Aitchison replied: “While specific financial information is not available on a case by case basis, as it is not captured at such a granular level, the proposed removal of play equipment, is intended to provide that cost neutral impact when balanced across the available resources within the environmental and parks service. 

“I would further confirm that no play park will be decommissioned until such times as the new play park investment in that locality is complete, and that no town or village which currently has a play park would be left without one following the rationalisation process.”

Councillor Bell asked as a follow up: “I’m seriously trying to help this council from getting itself into more of a problem. One of the challenges in what the officers are trying to, in following up on the decision we took in May, they’re interpreting that decision without realising that the wording used was ‘obsolete’.

“In my mind, obsolete means equipment which is not old, but which is unused, and a number of playparks in Tweeddale are actually well used. 

“I have to say, in respect of Tweeddale, it is quite a focused issue there. If the council is not in a position to tell us the costs in Tweeddale,  as in the costs associated with saving the money, do you recognise that runs the risk of making the council look silly?”

Councillor Aitchison replied: “The opportunity for the public appeared at the area partnerships to converge and engage with us, and that still applies. 

“If anyone out there, due to the publicity that this has received, gets in touch with us then we’re more than willing to listen.

“The officers have said the specific financial information is not available on a case by case basis.”