Inquiry report into children’s access to outdoor space will present ‘huge opportunity’

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‘A stark reflection’ of Government ‘disinterest’ – that was one leading play expert’s view of the final session of a UK government inquiry into children’s access to outdoor space. 

Alice Ferguson, co-founder of Playing Out, said that the raft of important evidence provided to the Select Committee’s Children, Young People and the Built Environment Inquiry could be ‘a gift’ to any future government if it decided to take the needs of children seriously.

The oral sessions held since January had demonstrated, she said, how children’s health and wellbeing was in ‘a critical state’, particularly for those facing inequalities. In addition, young people were not being considered in key policies around transport, planning and housing, nor was the much talked-about ‘built environment’ meeting children’s needs to play outside, socialise, get around independently and access local spaces.

‘Not up to speed with the evidence’

Having previously given evidence on behalf of Playing Out, Alice was an observer at the final session, which saw the inquiry panel – made up of MPs from across the political divide – hear submissions from and put questions to Joanna Averley, Chief Planner at the Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and Lee Rowley MP, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety.

Writing on the Playing Out blog, Alice said it seemed that the Government ‘could not decide’ who should take responsibility for such a ‘niche and off-radar topic’. She spoke of her surprise at Joanna Averley’s defence of current planning regulations, ‘essentially arguing that children don’t need special consideration beyond the very basic existing recommendations for designated play space’.

“The short answer to this would be that local authorities, by law, have to consider impact on all other equality groups, but not children (or at least the law is not clear on this – see our analysis here),” wrote Alice.

“As well as this, there’s good reason why children need special mention and consideration. Adults are the “default” citizens, voters, home-buyers, tenants etc and decisions are generally made with them in mind. Children have different needs from adults and – unless explicitly considered – these are almost always overlooked.

Housing Lee Rowley MP had, she said, seemed ‘deeply disinterested’ in the whole topic, and was seemingly not up he was not up to speed with the evidence. He also said he ‘did not believe in mandating councils to consider children’.

The committee, having garnered oral and written representations from a whole host of key witnesses, including Tim Gill, a leading advocate of children’s play rights; architect Dinah Bornat; Social Geography Professor Alison Stenning, a play expert; Sarah Scannell, a senior planner at Birmingham City Council, will produce its report in the summer.

“If the report reflects all that has been heard over the past three months, it could be a gift to those in power over the next decade – a roadmap to restoring children’s freedom and access to outdoor space, and all that comes with it,” said Alice.

‘A gift to those in power’

“There is already plenty of good practice to follow and we know what this looks like. The beauty of child-friendly places is that they are also community-friendly, healthy, safe and sustainable. If the current Government is unable to see this, there is a huge opportunity for whoever comes next,” she added.

Click here for more information on the Children, young people and the built environment committee, where you can also access all of the written evidence.

Click here to watch back the final session.

Click here to read Alice Ferguson’s blog on the Playing Out website.

Author: Simon Weedy

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