Saturday 27 April 2013

Open play areas...and black holes

The Executive Board meets on Monday to consider objections to the 'disposal' of four small areas of land (Agenda Item 2) These were part of a total of 86 small areas, adjacent or nearby other properties, which are being flogged off (otherwise known as an 'Asset Review') to try and fill some of the black holes which are beginning to appear in the council's finances. Incidentally, the Head of Corporate Property has delegated power to seek disposal of 'non-strategic' land.

This whole exercise may have passed you by, a few however did manage to spot the Public Open Space Notices in the Western Mail at the end of last year.

The Council is obliged to advertise the disposals in a "local newspaper", one would think that would mean local to Carmarthenshire rather than local to Wales.

Anyway, it looks like the other 82 went unnoticed and unchallenged, despite the requirement that Local Members were informed. Clearly though, some of the objections raised in the four to be considered on Monday would seem to apply to all. One main point was the loss of open play areas for local children. As the council are also hoping to save on potential liabilities by selling off these open spaces, it would seem they would rather the children stayed safely indoors.

There is another point, it appears that developers are already expressing an interest, one is a housing association. Some parcels of land may of course be well suited for affordable housing, if that is what is promised. I would imagine that most, if not all these plots are within the UDP so planning consent will be little more than a formality. The council, when disposing of these assets will naturally have to remember its policy and afford "all interested parties an equal opportunity to purchase".
A little further down the agenda at Item 6, is the Play Sufficiency Assessment 2013, quite an extensive exercise which determined whether there were enough opportunities, of all sorts, for children to play.
Recommendation Two states;

 Local Authority to recognise the importance of open spaces in contributing to children’s play needs within the community and the potential negative effects that the selling of these pockets of land has on children and communities.

There is even a 'Play Sufficiency Officer' who is tasked with an 'Action Plan' to ensure that;

When decisions are made with regards to disposal of green spaces that children and communities are consulted with meaningfully and that full consideration is given to the impact of the disposal on children’s play. 
Brownfield sites are assessed for their potential to be reclaimed to provide for children’s play

A recent Scrutiny meeting raised the inconsistency between the 'Play Strategy' and the selling of council land as well as the lack of provision through the Planning Service. One large development was mentioned where the only open play area left housed a large electricity pylon.

The Local Members who are objecting to the four 'disposals' are not allowed to speak at the Executive Board meeting so will have to hope that the Board bears in mind the objections (which include a 278 name petition for one of the areas) and that they don't forget about Item 6 further down the agenda....

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