Parents in playcentre protest heckle council

PARENTS' anger boiled over as they met council bosses about the threatened closure of the Maida Vale play project this week

Susanna Wilkey

PARENTS' anger boiled over as they met council bosses about the threatened closure of the Maida Vale play project this week.

More than 30 parents turned up to Tuesday's meeting to hear what bosses had to say about proposed plans to close the centre and turn it into a gym.

But what they heard made them so furious they heckled the children's services bosses and accused them of having already made up their minds.

Desperate cries of "please reconsider", "our kids absolutely love it here - please do not destroy this excellent service which has been around for 25 years" flooded the room.

Parents are furious the council has not kept its promise to build a new and improved playcentre as part of the new pavilion.

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They are also outraged that, despite the council's claims of the centre being underused for two years, nothing has been done to promote or improve it.

Parent Maricarmen Foster said: "My children used to come here and I was very unhappy when the playground was knocked down.

"Under-use of a play project will inevitably result when no effort is made over a number of years to invest and improve existing facilities.

"Had the council chosen to maintain a well-resourced and vibrant play project, rather than run it down, I can assure you that you would be turning parents and children away in droves in term-time as well as in the holiday periods.

"I cannot help but conclude therefore that it has been the council's intention, for some time now, to close down this play project and that this 'consultation' exercise is meaningless."

The council was heavily criticised for not thinking about the children when designing its masterplan for Paddington recreation ground.

Parents believe it has filled the grounds, off Randolph Avenue, with facilities which have to be paid for because it is only interested in money and profit.

Several parents said that they would have to give up work if the centre closed.

Parent Sean Cotter, who is leading the campaign to keep it open, said: "We were told when the playground was destroyed that we were going to get a new playground in the new pavilion that would be better.

"And being a naïve parent at the time I believed the council.

"But now it turns out it wasn't true and we are not going to get a new playcentre but an inappropriate space which wasn't even designed for children.

"They say it has been underused for a long time but absolutely no effort has been made to get people back into the centre.

"Everything promoted has been about the football pitches and tennis courts which you have to pay for.

"I am disgusted by what has happened here but it is typical Westminster Council.

"Consultation means they are just going to do what they want anyway - everyone thinks it won't make any difference."

The council has proposed that the children could use nearby play facilities at Essendine and St Augustine's primary schools.

But parents say these are not as suitable as the park because there is no green space and children do not want to stay in school from 9am until 6pm.

Parent Diane Reeves said: "The centre's playground was knocked down and turned into cricket nets and are empty most of the time which as a parent makes me sick."

Education boss Councillor Sarah Richardson will make the final decision on the proposals.

She attended the meeting and reassured parents she would listen to their concerns..

However, she did not categorically rule out closing the project.

She said: "I think that we need to come up with another way to make sure that this facility serves this area better.

"It just occurs to me that there is a real swell of feeling and I agree a real need - no-one understands that better than me.

"I will come back and look at this place and look at what is being proposed. It was never a cost-saving exercise - only that some resources were being underused in the area.

"I will listen to all your concerns and we will continue with this until we resolve it."