Radical plan sees streets close so kids can play safe

Edinburgh’s streets are set to be opened up to allow youngsters to play and make new friends under radical plans by the city council.

Children skipping and playing peevers together in the street is quickly becoming a distant memory, but councillors want to allow communities to halt traffic and let children play on their doorstep.

The city council undertook a trial of the Play Streets project last year – and is now hoping to allow youngsters to run free across the capital. The proposals, set to be considered by the council’s Transport and Environment Committee on Thursday, would see the authority paying the costs for any closures.

Cllr Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said the pilot scheme was “widely successful”.

She said: “It hit all its outcomes, did wonderful things for social cohesion and for getting children out playing. It ticks all the boxes.

“What is coming forward is a commitment for the council to carry that on and to build on the success of the pilot.

“There is funding there and there’s certainly the will to encourage local communities to carry on down this road and to make sure that they can take full advantage of the benefits of the Playing Out scheme.”

The Playing Out scheme is based on an idea by parents in Bristol and is intended to be a “community-led initiative”.

Management of the Playing Out scheme will be devolved to the city’s four locality offices – and there would be a limited number of events due to the budget restrictions of the localities. Each area has £62,500 available for local community events.

Bus routes will be exempt from the closures, as will any “main road which experiences large volumes of traffic”. The Play Streets events will also not clash with any waste collections.

A report to councillors says: “It was agreed that during the pilot, the council would cover all costs, including assessing and approving road closures and providing, delivering, and collecting, road closure equipment.

“It has been estimated that each session during the pilot cost the council approximately £1,500.”

Cllr Macinnes added: “There are all sorts of aspects to this like can children make new friends, what do we do about getting adults together to talk to each other and some of their neighbours.

“It was clear from the pilot that it was ticking all the boxes – it was achieving all of those things. It’s definitely something that’s very positive and a good experience for the city that we can build on.”

The street play scheme has been backed by Green councillors – but the party called for red tape to be cut in order to make it easier for people to hold the events more spontaneously.

Green Cllr Steve Burgess has been championing the Play Streets scheme for a number of years.

He said: “I am delighted to see Playing Out taking the next step in recreating a culture of street play for the city’s children. As anyone will know who has been to a Playing Out event, it brings a whole new feel to residential streets, welcomed by young and old alike.

“However, I also think there is still work to do in making street play events as easy as possible. Some of the costs and arrangements still set the bar too high in my view. So I look forward to the day when setting aside part of a street for safe play from time to time is as easy as 1-2-3.”

But Cllr Macinnes said the process for applying for a closure was fairly straightforward. She added: “It’s actually a fairly easy process anyway – it was during the pilot.

“Obviously there’s going to be some slight adjustments because of things we learnt during that pilot. There are no great barriers in the way – you just simply have to get together a group of people who want to do it, who can organise the practical aspects of it.

“By making our streets places to spend quality time with friends and neighbours, we’re helping build strong community spirit, fostering connections between different generations and enabling children to flourish through free and active play.”

Cllr Karen Doran, vice convener of the Transport and Environment Committee, is hoping the scheme will help people engage more with their local community.

She said: “It’s community cohesion as well because you are meeting new neighbours you don’t often have time to.

“As a youngster, that’s how everybody knew each other, because mums would come out with a skipping rope. Obviously that was a number of years ago but that’s how the community was built.

“It’s good to encourage people to do it and it become normal.”

Between April and August 2017, the council approved 54 playing out sessions to take place across 30 streets around the capital. During the pilot scheme, the council covered all costs, including assessing and approving road closures and providing, delivering and collecting road closure equipment. A councillor tasked with standing up for young people across the capital hopes the policy will tie in with the Year of Young People 2018.

The Scottish Government scheme is being touted as an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate he country’s young people.

The initiative is for young people aged eight to 26 and gives them a stronger voice on issues that affects them as well as giving them an opportunity to put forward ideas and help create a more positive perception of youngsters.

Cllr Eleanor Bird, the council’s young people’s champion, said: “It’s so important for children to have the freedom to play outside in an unstructured way. The responses to our consultation show how hugely beneficial closing off streets for play and recreation is, not just for the children themselves but for their parents and neighbours too. It will be fantastic to see more and more communities holding sessions in their streets.”

Lucy Richardson, member of Edinburgh Playing out, said: “We look forward to allowing children to play safely and communities to get together.”

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