Parents and children opposing the closure of two supervised adventure playgrounds looked on in dismay as a replacement climbing structure was officially opened on Monday.
The new piece of equipment at the Harebreaks Recreation Ground consists of a tall tower, climbing wall and two slides, and forms part of Watford Borough Council’s £1.4m overhaul of two sites. A similar construction at Harwoods Recreation Ground is expected to be ready in May.
Some parents have disputed the project from the off, raising concerns about the suitability of the new structure for young children – with the council stating kids as young as five can use it – and the potential for the tower to become a haven for troublemaking youths.
Others argue that the provision for disabled children in the area has been wiped out since the removal of play workers and more varied facilities at the former adventure playgrounds.
Laura Grace, 34, has lived in nearby Elm Grove for 11 years. Her 12-year-old daughter Mckenzie-Blu has cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair to get around.
“She used to have arts and crafts at the adventure playground but there’s absolutely nothing there for her now,” said Mrs Grace.
“There isn’t even level ground to push her around on. This park now, the hill is so steep that my foot came out of my shoe when I was pushing her.
“I used to play there when I was little – it’s horrible to see it now. The new structure doesn’t look safe. It’s just another place for people to sit and smoke what they shouldn’t be smoking, and having it open 24 hours a day will encourage them.”
The council said the structure had been assessed by the Play Inspection Company, which is a member of the Register of Play Inspectors International (RPII).
In a statement, the council argued its other play areas and parks did not attract anti-social behaviour despite being unsupervised.
"The council has a well-established community safety protection group involving neighbourhood policing and community safety experts to immediately tackle any issues that are reported to us," it added.
Around 50 pupils from nearby Beechfield Primary School became the first children to try out the new equipment when they attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.
Officially opening the structure, Elected Mayor Dorothy Thornhill said: “We are committed to providing exciting, imaginative and fun play activities for children, families and young people in Watford.
“The new adventurous playgrounds will be supported by free Easter and summer holiday activities for young people that we’re rolling out across Watford. We’re also expanding our programme of free events at Watford Museum and Cassiobury Park, so now is a great time to be young in Watford.”
Councillor Karen Collett, responsible for community, said: “We have delivered this adventurous playground on budget and ahead of time, and it will be open 365 days a year for young people to enjoy.
“This is something that five to 15-year-olds will be able to enjoy, and we are glad the first children to use it loved it so much.”