British children's playground stripped bare by safety fanatics

The most serious accident any parent can remember at the Allergate playground is the odd grazed knee. Yet the swings, roundabout, see-saw and slide have all been taken away after falling foul of Eurocrats in Brussels and their over-zealous safety regulations.

Parents have described the decision as 'health and safety gone mad'. Sarah Loach said: 'People are always talking about kids getting more exercise and then the council takes the play equipment away.'

Ruth Pierce said: 'My son keeps asking when the slide is coming back. We used to come down here quite regularly. Now I have to drive my boys to another park.'

Ruth Chambers said: 'The playground's been used for ten to 15 years plus. It seems crazy that they have suddenly decided it is not suitable.'

The operation to remove all the equipment began two weeks ago after an annual safety audit by Durham County Council ruled it constituted a safety risk. It was deemed to have contravened the European Union safety standard EN 1176 which governs playground equipment. This weighty document lays down complex rules for everything from the maximum speed of a roundabout to the approved angle of a slide.

Nigel Dodds, the council's sport and leisure manager, said the equipment was removed because it was unsuitable for upgrading. He said most of it was manufactured before 1998, when European safety standards replaced British measures. The council has not ruled out installing new equipment at Allergate, but Mr Dodds said that would depend on the outcome of a countywide play strategy, which is still being drawn up.

David Yearley, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: 'Generally speaking, it is important to recognise that compliance with the standards is not mandatory. 'In cases where equipment does not comply, it is crucial that you assess the risks to users. The equipment might then be made acceptable for use with just a few minor modifications.'

A report by the National Playing Fields Association in 2005 said attempts to eliminate all risks from play areas were making them boring. It added that councils which fear being sued in the event of an accident sometimes interpret safety guidelines, which are only advisory, too harshly.


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