The playground in Reigate’s Priory Park will close for two months from “mid-May” for a refurbishment, in which a new ‘Grey Lady’ ship, a second zipwire and new climbing structures will be installed.
Reigate & Banstead Borough Council ran a public consultation in October, asking people what equipment they’d like to see in the play area.
Many on social media welcomed the designs when they were revealed last week, but others queried why the refurbishment is taking place given new splash play equipment was installed as recently as 2017. Some added that other play areas in the borough could do with a makeover.
In response the council said that the work will relate to equipment in the playground that is 12 years old and deteriorating, and that the project is part of an ongoing programme which has seen 25 borough playgrounds replaced since 2007.
Other residents criticised the early summer timing for the closure, when children are likely to want to use the playground.
The council said that it had been required to follow a tender process and that equipment takes time to manufacture. Fine weather will help the work, it added.
The council said last week:
“The design retains the playground’s nautical theme and is packed with equipment offering excellent variety for children of all ages and abilities.
‘The Grey Lady’ ship, complete with sails and a ship’s wheel will continue to be the centrepiece. The new vessel features a tube slide, balance bars, ladders, a climbing net, hammocks and play panels all set over two decks.
The four-tower ‘Priory Castle’ climbing frame, designed for children aged 4 to 12 features two types of slide, a bridge, climbing net and a spiral ‘curly climber’. While the smaller two-tier ‘Priory Gatehouse’ includes a slide, climbing net, fireman’s pole and play panels aimed at 2 to 6 year olds.
A 25-metre double zip wire offers twice the fun, along with nine swings suitable for a variety of ages, two types of climbing nets, a multi-seesaw with back supports, a carousel roundabout suitable for children with disabilities, horse springers and spinners.
The bespoke scheme has been designed to suit the park’s unique identity and historic setting. The popular climbing wall and summer splash play will remain and the overall layout and planting will not change.”
By sticking with the nautical theme the council has kept the link to the famous admirals who’ve occupied Reigate Priory, while the Grey Lady ship continues to be named after a ghost rumoured to haunt the building.
The new kit will be manufactured and installed by Kompan, who refurbished the popular Meadowbank playground in Dorking.
The borough council hasn’t given precise dates for the work, but dates of 13 May – 11 July were indicated at a council meeting last November.
Those dates would see the playground reopen in time for the summer school holidays, but would be out of use during May half-term and throughout June with its (in theory) sunny weekends.
In response to criticism on Facebook, the council said:
“Following a public consultation last October, we were required to hold a tender exercise for the project which has just been awarded to the successful contractor.
Now they are in the process of ordering and making the equipment. There are long lead-times for some pieces as they need to be specially made.
Also, installation is quicker and easier in fine weather.”
Not everyone is convinced the work needs doing, and some said on Facebook that the equipment looks in good nick.
The council replied that maintenance costs are rising each year, and that specialist tests have shown the wooden equipment is deteriorating rapidly owing to use, weather and sand.
Morag Williams, the council’s head of neighbourhood operations, said last week when the designs were announced:
“Priory Park receives over three million visits each year from all over the borough and further afield. Its much-loved playground has provided countless hours of fun for children for nearly 12 years but it has taken its toll on the equipment.
Taking on board what parents and carers told us when we surveyed them, the refurbishment keeps the essence of what’s there already but offers a broader range of equipment and has a greater sense of openness to make it easier for parents and carers to keep an eye on children of different ages using different parts of the playground. We’re also using materials that are easy to maintain and will last.
We’re sorry for the inconvenience that the playground closure will cause while the work takes place. We hope parents, carers and children will love the new design, which will be exciting and challenging whilst offering countless opportunities for imaginative play to support children’s social, creative and physical development.”
The cost of the project hasn’t been published, but at the November council meeting it was said that a playground refurbishment typically costs £80,000. Generally two a year take place, and with the Priory Park project said to use up a whole year’s budget, that might suggest a figure at least equal to £160,000.
£160,000 is also the figure the council said it spent in 2017 on removing the sand that was damaging equipment and blocking drains, and replacing the splash play equipment.
What about other playgrounds?
Residents have asked on Facebook why the money isn’t instead being spent on other playgrounds in the borough.
The council has said that 25 play areas have been refurbished since 2007, including Chipstead and Kingswood last year. Plans are being drawn up for Merstham Recreation Ground, as the programme continues.
Playgrounds are prioritised for upgrades according to factors such as condition, age, usage, size and location, the council said.
In response to questions about what work might be done in Horley, in particular, Reigate & Banstead said that playgrounds there fall within the remit of Horley Town Council.
Children with disabilities
Questions were also raised on Facebook about whether more could have been done to make the playground accessible to children with disabilities.
The council replied that it had taken steps to make the playground inclusive, and listed features that would promote that, adding that it had worked to ensure the “vast majority” of the equipment meets standards in the Disability Discrimination Act. Comments would be passed on to the greenspaces team, the council said.