Petition calling to end ‘barriers’ to children playing on the streets receives support

Cambridgeshire councillors have expressed support for a petition calling on the county council to reduce the bureaucratic “barriers” and make it easier to temporarily close residential streets for children to play.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 5:00 am
Children playing

So-called “playing out” is where residents close a street to through-traffic for a few hours to allow children in the neighbourhood to play there safely.

The petition calls on Cambridgeshire County Council to reduce the requirements on organisers and “encourage more resident-led street play events”.

The petition’s organiser, Julia Sang, made her case before the council’s highways committee where she said the application process in Cambridgeshire is acting as a “barrier” and that the council takes a “risk averse” approach.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The petition says: “There is a national movement of residents closing their streets to through-traffic, for short periods, so children can play out safely. At the last count 63 councils had a play street policy and almost 1,000 street communities – 30,000 children – had ‘played out’ – all led by residents. But in Cambridgeshire there have been less than a handful of Playing Out events”.

Ms Sang argued the county council’s requirements are putting people off. She wants road closure applications to be extended to groups rather than individuals, to remove the need to study a 560-page document for residents to implement a road closure and replace the rulebook with a shorter guide, and to remove the “inhibitive cost” to the organiser of taking out insurance in case of damage to the street and instead ask any individual who causes damage to bear responsibility.

She also said the process changes every year, “putting people off”. Although she said “some things have become easier. You don’t have to get 100 per cent of houses to sign on the street any more, you only have to get 50 per cent, which is brilliant”.

“There are huge benefits not just for people with kids but for the whole community,” Ms Sang said. “The benefits are well documented, improving children’s health and wellbeing, building stronger communities, encouraging active citizens.”

Councillors questioned why street parties have seemed much easier to organise in the past, such as for the Jubilee celebrations. Cllr Lorna Dupre said the bureaucracy was “dampened down” as part of a government push to make them happen.

Cllr Dupre, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the council, praised the petition and said playing out could have “huge benefits”. And Labour Cllr Jocelynne Scutt said she was “extremely supportive of this petition”.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Manning also said he “wholeheartedly” supported the idea and suggested it could be an example of an approach he has been spearheading where policy ideas are subject to greater evidence-based testing by the council. “It is very hard to speak against children playing,” he said, adding: “It’s a fantastic idea.”

Conservative councillor Mark Goldsack said he supported the idea and said “let’s not be under the misapprehension that this is just the cities, this is towns, this is hamlets, this is villages, this is everywhere”.

He added: “A small village would want to close their high street as well. The fact that there is bureaucracy in the way of doing that is ridiculous. I would wholeheartedly support us taking a look at this again.”

The petition had received 78 signatures at the time it was brought to the committee.

The chair, Conservative Mathew Shuter, thanked Ms Sang for bringing the petition to the committee and said it was “very interesting”.

The council will provide a response within the next 10 days.

Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporting Service