Croydon has become the only London borough to impose a tax on local residents who run the award winning Play Streets scheme, which involves closing the road for three hours every second Sunday of the month to give children the opportunity to play for free in a safe space.
Children’s charity London Play got involved in the row after angry Croydon parents set up a petition opposing the council’s decision to ask for £234 per street to run the scheme.
The council says it is for the cost of advertising the road closures but London Play say there is no legal obligation for the council to advertise these closures. The council accepts that it is “not legally obliged” to advertise but says it is “ a matter of good practice to publicise the restrictions in the local press.”
However, even the latest Department for Transport guidance removed the requirement to advertise because it was one of the barriers to councils and residents working for positive change.
Thornton Heath resident Sue Ahmad who has been running Play Streets in Livingstone Road for three years was told about the fee by a senior traffic orders engineer at the council after she applied for a licence to restart the scheme, which was postponed during Covid in 2020.
Not only was she angry to be told she would have to pay but that the street could offset the cost by recouping the money from local councillors who would use their community ward budget to pay the council fee.
The ward budgets which are meant to support local issues were only recently reinstated after being frozen last year because the bankrupt council had to be bailed out by the government but have been reduced from £8,000 to £2,000 per councillor.
Mum Sue said: “Play Streets help combat obesity and isolation and pulls the Community together. During COVID-19 it has become very apparent that more so than ever that playing out is most certainly needed particularly with such isolation and a lot of time on screens.
“I was shocked and angered when the Council stated that they were implementing a charge to the volunteers for the Play Street which is a free national play scheme and backed by the government. It’s ludicrous that they should charge any Play Street volunteers for something they do not need to charge for. No other council charges for children to play out.”
According to Cabinet documents from September 2019 as part of the Ambitious for Croydon Corporate plan 2018-2022, the council had already set aside £10,000 to fund Play Streets in 2020-21.
Fiona Sutherland, Deputy director of Landon Play, in a letter to Cabinet Member for Sustainable Croydon Cll Muhammad Ali wrote: “The decision to introduce this charge seems very short-sighted, particularly now; when communities have suffered through more than a year of isolation and separation, accompanied by a marked decline in the mental and physical health of both children and adults.
“Play streets are a cheap and easy resident-led initiative which mitigate exactly these negative impacts. Now more than ever, they should be encouraged. We understand that the justification for the charge is to cover the cost of advertising the temporary road closures in the local press. This is not necessary, for several reasons:
“We are in touch with many Croydon residents who are keen to get out on their streets and start reconnecting and reinvigorating their communities. Like us, they are hugely dismayed at this regressive step by the council.
“That a council with a five-year strategic plan envisaging Croydon as a place with “a vibrant and connected community and voluntary sector”, would intentionally create barriers for residents who are willingly volunteering their time and energy to contribute to this vision is baffling. “
The scheme was previously hailed as award winning with the ‘Play Street of the Year’ title, which goes to the London street or road that has the most successful arrangements in place to allow families to enjoy playing outdoors, being won two years in succession by Love Lane in Woodside.
The popular Play Streets coordinator Maria Nawrocka was also rewarded for her efforts in 2018 winning the council’s Residents’ Choice Award for her work but became one of 94 members of staff to lose their jobs to redundancy because of the council’s financial crisis.
Siobhain O Hanlon is the organiser for Tudor Road Play Street and set up the petition to lobby the council to reverse its decision and it has so far received 339 signatures.
She said: “If we get enough signatures we can convince them that this is unacceptable. This fee will lead to the end of the children’s free play. Free play is valued by many families. It is a simple but important pleasure, which opens up the community and encourages neighbourhoods to come together. It also assists and contributes to positive mental health for parents and children.”
To sign the petition click here: