COUNCIL leader Shona Haslam has defended the local authority’s plans to replace the region’s small playparks with larger, more centralised facilities.

In May 2018, Scottish Borders Council agreed plans to consult on the closure of 74 small playparks it says are underused and falling into disrepair. 

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

At a meeting of the council on Thursday, council leader Haslam was asked by Kelso councillor Euan Robson to explain how the local authority calculated the supposed savings gained from closing the smaller playparks.

Councillor Haslam, who represents Tweeddale East, said: “The council is investing significant sums in enhancing play facilities in our towns improving the quality of facilities which in many cases provide a very poor play experience. 

“No net saving is planned from the programme which is designed to be revenue neutral. The overall revenue budget for the upkeep of parks across the Borders is contained within the budget for neighbourhood services and no savings are projected from this budget as a result of the play programme.

“The removal of old play equipment from playparks, which following appraisal, deemed to be low value facilities, will allow for sufficient resources to be deployed to maintain the new facilities being invested in by the council through the outdoor community spaces capital project on an ongoing basis.

“The new facilities include more pieces of equipment, widening access and providing higher play value than the previous, aged, low-amenity, play equipment. The decommissioning of the older low value facilities will ensure the revenue impact to the parks and environment service budget is cost neutral. 

“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.

“Members should also note that no town or village which currently has a play park will be left without one following the upgrade process.”

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson also queried the council leader, asking for an update on the proposed closure of eleven parks in her ward. 

Councillor Haslam told the chamber: “The council requested feedback to the programme for decommissioning of play parks with an end date of August 18. 

“Officers will now undertake a review of the feedback and, where appropriate, respond prior to implementing the council decision.

“In announcing a significant investment in outdoor community facilities the council recognised the need to address the historic over provision of low value playparks, indeed the council is in amongst the largest providers of play parks per 1000 head of population when compared to similar authorities, however when it comes to quality it is amongst the lowest in play value terms.

“The council decision to invest in destination playparks and decommission those play parks which are obsolete does not remove the spaces from fulfilling an important community need in terms of access to open spaces. 

“These spaces can be used for informal play and have the potential to help the council address other issues such as its obligation to identify places for community food growing.”

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.