It’s so cruel to segregate children’s play areas | Letters

Readers respond to news that a London developer has segregated play areas for richer and poorer residents

Your report (Developer bars poorer children from play area, 26 March) has rightly caused a national outcry. The idea that children should be excluded from a play space right on their doorstep, due purely to their family’s economic status, is abhorrent and must be rectified. We must also recognise that this is not an isolated case – blame lies more widely than with the particular developer involved.

Over a generation, the acceptance of children’s right to play out where they live – in streets, estates and open spaces, for free, on their doorstep, whether they are rich or poor – has silently been eroded through a combination of environmental and attitudinal changes.

The impact of this on children’s health and wellbeing – particularly those whose parents have little say over their own outside space and less ability to “compensate” them with paid-for activities – is only now beginning to be seen. The answer – alongside creating a more child-friendly public realm – is to enshrine in law and defend in practice all children’s right to play out where they live. This is down to all of us.
Ingrid Skeels and Alice Ferguson
Co-Directors, Playing Out

• The segregation of play areas is indeed more than a planning disaster (Editorial, 27 March). In Bristol, security guards, rather than hedges, are employed to keep social tenants’ children from playing outside in some mixed housing developments. These practices reflect broader and growing inequalities, and cannot be justified by selective maintenance charging policies.

Many such developments are on land that 40 years ago was publicly owned, when poorer children’s access to parks and green spaces were little different from richer children.(And then we had park keepers rather than security guards.)

As a result of the privatisation of land (in 2018 Brett Christopher calculated that since the election of Margaret Thatcher about 10% of the entire British land mass had passed into private hands), the National Children’s Bureau found, in 2013, that children living in the least deprived areas were nine times more likely to enjoy access to safe play space and recreation than poor children. This is not surprising given that by 2017 the most affluent 20% of wards in England had five times the amount of green space as the most deprived 10%. Until local government funding is reformed and increased, these inequalities will increase.

A society in which inequality becomes so entrenched that children grow up in a state of social apartheid is grossly unfair and has serious implications for social cohesion now and in the future.
Hilary Land
Emerita professor of family policy, University of Bristol

• It is shameful enough that Henley Homes has created a segregated play area at its Vauxhall housing development to keep children living in social housing away from the children of homeowners.

The insult is compounded by the fact that this luxury housing block, named Baylis Old School, is built on the site of one of the Inner London Education Authority’s most innovative inner-city secondary schools, Lilian Baylis School, where passionately engaged English and drama teachers Louise Dodgson, Stephen Eyers and John Richmond, and their colleagues, celebrated and supported the spoken and written language of children in one of London’s many deprived areas during the 1970s and 80s.

They believed in the potential of the children who lived in the streets around the school, and encouraged and helped them to aim high. I have no doubt that they would have taken up their pruning shears and cut a gate through the hedge that prevents children living in Wren Mews from joining their equals on the “other side”.

My old friend Stephen Eyers must be spinning in his grave.
Fiona Collins
Carrog, Sir Ddinbych

• The segregation of play areas for richer and poorer children is a shocking development. Play is a powerful builder of community cohesion, bringing children and families from different backgrounds together. Here, sadly, it has been used to drive families apart.

All children have the right to play, as recognised in the UN convention on the rights of the child. Through play children develop social skills, awareness of identity and culture, health and wellbeing.

Governments have a responsibility for play and leadership is needed. Local, regional and national government can together make sure that all children can benefit from quality play opportunities in their neighbourhoods.

Clear guidance on planning and design of play provision is needed. Along with investment in play provision and a statutory duty on local authorities to provide sufficient play opportunities in their area.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and a number of local authorities are leading the way because they see the benefits to children and to society. Children in England need consistent leadership and support for play from Westminster.
Nicola Butler
Chair of trustees, Play England

• What Gaby Hinsliff identifies as “the crabbily diminishing understanding of the public good” (The social apartheid of the playground, 27 March) is an intended effect of Tory policy in the 1980s and this decade. Margaret Thatcher really did say “there is no such thing as society” and many agreed with her. Her governments tried to make reality conform to such ideas, eroding local authority powers, trashing trade unions, enforcing the sale of public assets, and deregulating financial institutions.

Many in the current Tory party think “Thatcherism” didn’t go far enough. Some of them are members of the political elite who Aditya Chakrabortty says are “strangers to collective interest or public responsibility” (Britain has been betrayed by an amoral venal establishment, 27 March). They serve a different principle: the accumulation of wealth in selected families, starting with their own.
Jan Dubé
Peebles, Scottish Borders

• It is dispiriting that we still accept the argument that “councils under intense pressure to build often aren’t in a position to play hardball with developers” (Gaby Hinsliff). Of course they are – particularly in London where land is scarce and expensive. I am tired of hearing councils bleat that “if we don’t agree they will go elsewhere” – no they won’t, not if all councils stand their ground and make it a condition of sale if it is their land, or of planning if it is not.

It may be harder to negotiate as part of the planning process and changes to planning law have certainly watered down the ability to impose conditions, but once in place this is a legal obligation. Local authorities should be thinking more carefully about what is being developed and how it is to be implemented, and more canny about how they word conditions.
Gillian Fearnyough
Beaminster, Dorset

• The rise of segregated play zones in new housing developments is a retrograde step for the capital’s built environment and should be immediately discouraged by the London boroughs and the Greater London Authority.

One of London’s enduring strengths as a global city has been its historic commitment to pepper-potting social housing. While its execution hasn’t always been perfect, it has largely avoided the “ghetto-isation” that has taken place elsewhere and has contributed towards maintaining social cohesion in a city with huge wealth inequality.

The collective aspiration of all those involved in delivering new housing should soar higher than a dystopian future in which children in rented accommodation are denied access to the most basic human right of open space and fresh air, while their neighbours play freely outside.

Delivering mixed-tenure housing isn’t easy and inevitably involves some compromises, but these must be challenged thoroughly at every stage lest they start to form dangerous precedents.
Graham Haworth
Director, Haworth Tompkins

• JG Ballard had already flagged this up in 1975 in his novel High Rise. A novel, sadly, for our times – we have clearly learnt nil.
Josine Meijer

• I wept as I read of children excluded from a play area because of where they lived. Cry the Beloved Country comes to mind.
June Lewis

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