Is Sunderland City Council playing fair with park cash?

Run down Kirklea Park playground in Kirklea Road, Houghton.
Run down Kirklea Park playground in Kirklea Road, Houghton.
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AN Echo investigation has revealed that more than £680,000 for play park improvements remain unspent despite some of the facilities becoming rundown, derelict and “dangerous”.

The money has been building up since 2005. All of it has been received through deals the council has reached. These Section 106 arrangements are where money is given to a council to spend on improving an area from developers.

Pictues of run down play areas which should have been financed by the council. Broken equipment in the play area beside Hyton Castle, sunderland.

Pictues of run down play areas which should have been financed by the council. Broken equipment in the play area beside Hyton Castle, sunderland.

From 2005, £80,000 has been collected by the council to spend on Kirklea Park, in Houghton, and so far not a penny has been spent.

Elsewhere, £100,000 was received in 2009 to spend on play facilities at the Billy Hardy Sports Complex, Hylton Castle play area or Castletown Primary School.

And in the same year, £46,000 was acquired to spend on St Matthew’s Playing Fields and Silksworth Sports Complex play areas – again, none of this money has been spent.

One resident, who lives next to Kirklea park, on Windsor Crescent, said: “I was told when the new houses were built that it was part of the deal they would be spending the money on improving the park.

Pictues of run down play areas which should have been financed by the council. A tatty toy  car beside the Billy Hardy centre in Castletown, Sunderland.

Pictues of run down play areas which should have been financed by the council. A tatty toy car beside the Billy Hardy centre in Castletown, Sunderland.

“Well, it’s clear that has not happened and to me it actually looks dangerous the way it is now.

“At the moment, all it attracts is trouble and antisocial behaviour.

“It might be treated with more respect if it was in better condition.”

Another resident said: “I think it’s really important that the kids have a safe place to play and they don’t have that now.

“I’m quite new to the area but if I had young children I would definitely not let them play on it.”

The council could also find itself in a position where developers might ask for the money back if it is not spent in the way it was agreed.

The information, which was obtained by the Echo through a Freedom of Information Act request, also revealed that the council is waiting to collect more than £2.5million from similar agreements.

Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland Conservatives, said: “This is a very large amount of money which should be used for the benefit of the people of Sunderland as quickly as possible and the council needs to address this delay.

“The Coalition Government has recently urged councils to revisit Section 106 agreements to ensure they are still viable and of good value as many were made several years ago.”

Councillor Bryan Charlton, portfolio holder for prosperous city on Sunderland City Council, said: “Each Section 106 legal agreement is unique and has clauses and timescales as to when the money has to be spent by.

“Of the £685,160 collected, £560,537 relates to ongoing schemes where those deadlines are still live and works can be expected to take place. The remaining £124,569 is for historic schemes for play space.

“In Sunderland, we recognise that play is an important part of a child’s life and we are committed to ensuring high-quality provision.

“Unfortunately at times there is insufficient funding from Section 106 alone to develop more high-quality play sites.

“We continue to develop play sites as additional resources to compliment Section 106 funds become available, ensuring these high-quality play developments are aligned with the priorities set out within the Play and Urban Games Strategy.”