A public protest is scheduled to take place tomorrow (December 20) in an effort to save the Viking ship’s equipment at the Ethelbert Crescent Playground (Newgate Gap) in Cliftonville.
The Viking Ship Playground was installed in 2009 at a cost of £ 240,000 with the main structural components being black locust wood rather than the galvanized / powder coated steel used for most fixtures.
However, a report to members of Thanet’s board cabinet said the condition of gaming equipment had deteriorated and had become a health and safety risk. An inspection in December 2020 reported 83 defects in the Viking Ship’s playground with concerns over the wooden structural elements of the Viking Ship itself.
In response, Thanet Council plans to use £ 169,517 of a Kent County Council’s £ 211,280 allocation for community parks to demolish the existing site and then install replacement play equipment.
The works are scheduled to take place in February and March 2022 and will include the demolition / removal of the existing Viking ship, playhouse climbing frame, rocker joint and spring rocker ship.
They will be replaced by:
Castles Keep – large 3 story castle with multiple slides, poles and net
Castle Gatehouse – castle with slide and monkey bridge
Track Ride Tower – zipline type device with tower and net
Wheelchair carousel – roundabout carousel included
Swings with cradle swing and “you and me” swing included
Jumper Square – ground trampoline type jumper
Funding must be spent by March 31, 2022.
But members of the Friends of Cliftonville Coastline say the “iconic and unique” Viking ship must be saved. They will meet at the playground tomorrow at 10 a.m. and invite others to join them, who:
“Have children heartbroken at the loss of our unique iconic Viking ship so essential to imaginative natural play.
“I think this money should be spent on renovations and upgrades (eg improved access and a wheelchair carousel) rather than costly demolition and rebuilding.
“And that the money saved could then be spent across Margate and beyond for the benefit of several deteriorating playgrounds in need, for example Dane Park.
“Believe that the council should be held accountable for the lack of future planning and ongoing maintenance of ailing community infrastructure.
“Fed up with the lack of control over whether Developer Section 106 funds are being properly raised and why they are not being used to maintain local playgrounds as allocated.”
“Believes that we must protect our conservation areas and respect planning permissions when necessary to protect them.
“I think we should be looking at big and sudden expenses like this, where the legal tender process for contractors and building permit is ‘bypassed’.
“And that there should be a lot more consultation within the community to find out what is wanted and needed locally.”
A spokesperson for Friends of Cliftonville Coastline said: “The consultant ROSPA report recommends that the Viking ship have 5 support poles replaced, the sandpit frame should have 2 replacement poles and these should be inspected every every 2 years.
“The cost of replacing support posts is estimated at £ 8-10,000. Due to the high level of vessel mast inspection costs, costs are estimated at £ 3,000 every two years.
“So why is demolition the only option being considered, instead of the obviously much cheaper and more environmentally sustainable renovation and maintenance option?
“Section 106 payments are intended to be used to keep playgrounds near new developments of a certain size. There is no record of whether the allocated money has ever been collected or spent on the Viking Ship Playground.
At a Cabinet meeting on December 16, when funding for the park was approved, Green Councilor Mike Garner suggested that Section 106 money – developer contributions for the island’s infrastructure – should be investigated with any unpaid amounts added to the Cliftonville Park fund which in turn would free up funds to replace the Memorial Rec. An amount for this work has been tentatively allocated from the parks grant and officers have said they will investigate Section 106 funding.
Allowances were also made for work at Crispe Park in Birchington and Northdown Park.
In The Isle of Thanet News article revealing the park’s fundraising plan, an article by The Children’s Playground CEO Rinske Wassenaar said: No need for replacement.
“Looking carefully at the photos (in the article), I am convinced that only minor repairs would be needed, eg replacing missing parts, treating any cracks, sanding the sapwood and painting. We have overhauled similar sized playgrounds costing between £ 8,000 and £ 12,000, where we have completely sanded the sapwood. The playground will look new and last at least another 10 years.
The total annual playground revenue budget of £ 39,000 per year is distributed among the 31 playgrounds on the island. In 2020/21, Thanet’s council said £ 12,647 of that was spent on essential maintenance and £ 1,900 on inspections at the Ethelbert Crescent playground alone.
Cllr George Kup, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Youth Engagement, said: ‘I am delighted that Council has received £ 221,000 in Community Parks Grants under the Outbreak Management Fund (COMF ).
“£ 170,000 of this funding will be used to replace and improve the playground equipment at Ethelbert Crescent. The cost of maintaining and repairing existing equipment at Ethelbert Crescent has become unbearable, with a disproportionate amount of the budget for maintaining all of the district’s play equipment being spent here. Without these improvements, the playground would be closed due to its deteriorated condition.
“Community park funding will also fund improvements to other parks in the district to encourage the use of outdoor spaces in line with grant funding goals. Funding is due to be spent by the end of March 2022 and officers had to work quickly to develop a program based on priority needs and benefits to the community. Due to these tight deadlines, it is unfortunate that we were unable to consult with the local community.
“It is disappointing that a small minority of people are protesting against a move that is a lifeline for the popular Viking ship playground. The funding means that a high-quality playground, with more inclusive and accessible amenities than currently, will now be available in the long term for the benefit of the local community.