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Residents gather outside Maidstone Town Hall, in Jubilee Square, to hand in petition against plans to close Freshland Road play area

By Alan Smith


When residents gathered at the Town Hall on Wednesday (April 23) to lobby councillors not to close their local play area, they were hopeful but not confident.

The Freshland Road play area is one of 20 threatened with closure as part of the council’s revised play area strategy for the borough, which is currently out to consultation.

Mum Lauren Sykes presented a 200-strong petition to a meeting of the full council.

Residents with a petition to present to the council opposing the closure of the Freshland Road Play Area
Residents with a petition to present to the council opposing the closure of the Freshland Road Play Area

She said the council’s strategy stated that every resident would still be within a 12 -minute walk of a play area even after the proposed closures, but she told councillors that was “fundamentally flawed.”

She said: “It doesn’t take account of the steep gradient we would have to climb to the next play area or that we would be struggling with pushchairs.”

She said many of the houses in the Freshland Road estate had very small gardens and the provision of a play area had been integral to the design.

Her arguments were immediately accepted by councillors.

Cabinet member John Wilson (Con) said: “I‘ve walked up that hill and I’ve seen parents struggling with a pushchair and I fully sympathise.

“This is a consultation process, which means we do listen to what people say and sometimes change our minds.”

He warned Miss Sykes that the procedure was that the decision would have to be taken elsewhere by the responsible cabinet member, but added: “Since that is me, I don’t think there will be a problem.”

Two year old Ava Willis with the petition.
Two year old Ava Willis with the petition.

He was supported by Cllr Brian Moss (Con), whose ward includes Freshland Road. He said: “This play area is in a fairly good condition. The cost to the council of keeping it going will be negligible, but the benefits to residents will be considerable.”

Cllr Ian Chittenden (Lib Dem) also welcomed the decision, but added that the arguments applied just the same to play areas in his ward. He said: “The play areas in Shaw Close and Laycott Gardens should also be reprieved.”

The residents had been supported in their campaign by the Lib Dem Parliamentary campaigner Jasper Gerard, who said after the meeting: “I am delighted. One mum who used the play area every day with her toddler described it to me as a ‘life-safer’. It would have been nonsensical to rip out the virtually new equipment from this lovely little haven.”

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