The developer Balfour Beatty and Denbighshire council have been accused of ignoring the needs of children by ripping out a playground in the deprived Welsh town of Rhyl to make way for a £92m flood defence project.
People in the town told the Guardian they were given no warning that the popular Drift Park playground would be removed, despite the consultation process having been carried out with global engineering consultants Mott MacDonald.
One parent, Rose, said: “I didn’t know it was going until I walked past and it was gone. It’s a huge blow for families to have lost this play area. It was modern and had something for everyone. The other play areas in Rhyl are very neglected.”
Lauren Whatmough used the playground regularly. She said: “I go every week, but I only learned on Facebook it had been taken down – I was really shocked.”
Balfour Beatty is contracted to replace Drift Park after the three-year construction work ends – a period so long it is officially described as “permanent” removal.
The council, which is facing calls from residents and local politicians including local Senedd member Gareth Thomas to relocate the playground, said it had evaluated the possibility of moving it to other local spaces but that none were suitable.
Documents show the council did not draw up a list of alternative sites until last month – after the planning process ended – and then only in response to a complaint from a member of the public.
The council admitted the list was drawn up in April and that no reports were made at the time but said discussions about alternative sites had taken place conversationally.
Families said the years of closure of the playground would be a huge loss for the poorest ward in Wales.
Jade, a 29-year-old mother of two, said: “I live in Rhyl and struggle with daily life. One of the things I enjoyed with my children and that gave us bonding time was going to Drift Park and now they’ve demolished it. We don’t drive and the only other park near us is tiny compared to Drift. I’m so sad it’s gone.”
A Rhyl campaigner who asked to be referred to as Dr Steele told the Guardian he felt children’s needs had been ignored throughout the planning process and that more attention had been paid to the impact of the construction on seals in a nearby aquarium.
“There were questions asked in the meeting where they passed this project about the impact the construction work would have on seals at the SeaQuarium. But nobody spoke about the children and their playground.
“Communication has been woeful. None of the planning drawings show the playground being removed, and a leaflet that Mott MacDonald put through the very nearest houses to the construction site did not mention the playground going either.
“West Rhyl is one of the poorest and unhealthiest wards in Wales and I believe taking a valued green space for families to build an access road for a construction site is in direct contravention of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.”
The act is a law that binds public bodies to consider seven goals of health and wellbeing of communities in their decisions.
Steele wrote to the council and Mott MacDonald to complain about the lack of consultation of families. He said: “It is shameful that a group who have no voice – children – have been impacted so significantly with no consultation.”
In an email seen by the Guardian, a senior Denbighshire council official replied that a consultation would have “raised expectations”.
The official wrote: “We already identified that the temporary closure would have a large adverse effect. We would have raised expectations about outcomes that weren’t necessarily viable had we consulted children about removing the play area.”
The council insists they had no choice but to close the playground and that there are enough play areas locally for families.
In a statement it said: “There are three other play areas in close proximity to the Drift Park. In addition, Rhyl has one of the biggest and best beaches in Wales.
“The evaluation process concluded that relocating the play area was not feasible … and that the remaining provision nearby would be adequate for the duration of the coastal defence work … The council hopes to identify additional funding in order to construct an improved, fully accessible play area once the construction work is completed.”
A Balfour Beatty spokesperson said: “The playground has been removed so that we can safely carry out critical coastal protection works. We will be working with Denbighshire county council to provide a new facility, once our essential works are complete.”
The construction company in March posted a year-on-year profit of £279m, an increase of 42% from £197m the previous year.
Mott MacDonald did not respond to requests for a comment or further explanation of their role. In an email defending the consultation process to a resident, it said: “Mott MacDonald handled the pre-application consultation resident letter distribution. Notification of the consultation period was provided across numerous channels in line with planning guidance and included a resident maildrop, press releases, social media posts and Denbighshire county council’s website.”