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UK Government backs play streets

posted this in Activism on 23/07/2019

play street

Good news from the Playing Out movement! Here’s how we won this endorsement and what it means.

Resident-led play streets

Ten years ago, frustrated by their children’s lack of freedom to play outside their own front doors, parents and neighbours closed their Bristol street to through-traffic so children could play out safely – and the Playing Out movement began.

A pioneering local policy

In response to street communities wanting to do this on a regular basis, Bristol City Council put the pioneering Temporary Play Street policy in place.  For the first time anywhere in the UK, residents could make an annual application to open their street for play up to 3hrs a week. Almost 200 streets across Bristol have now taken up this opportunity.

A growing movement

We have since responded to interest from parents and councils all over the UK and a movement has grown. At the last count, 63 councils had a play street policy and almost 1000 street communities – 30,000 children – had “played out”, led by residents and often supported on the ground by a local ‘activator’, group or organisation. The idea has even started to spread internationally, to Australia, Canada and many other countries.

Resident-led play streets are a great practical way that people can start to bring about change for children and adults in their own communities. But there are still many council areas where you can’t easily apply to close your street for play. One barrier has been the lack of clarity for councils about the legal basis for putting a policy in place.

National lobbying

For several years, we have been lobbying government to issue guidance for councils on this and last September we met with the Minister of State for Transport, asking for his help. We have also garnered support from Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, following her important 2018 report Playing Out, and from British Cycling, an organisation that also wants to see streets safer for children to cycle and play. We are delighted that our work has now resulted in an official letter to all English Highway Authorities saying, “play streets offer wonderful opportunities not merely for children, but for families and communities”. The Minister’s letter clarifies the various legal routes available to councils and encourages them to put a policy in place. A separate letter has also gone to all MPs encouraging them to support play streets in their constituencies.

August 2019 Update! The UK government  have now published official play streets guidance for councils on their website, signposting to Playing Out for more info. 

We very much hope that this will be the nudge and reassurance some councils need to get behind the idea and enable residents to regularly open their streets for play, along with all our information and support for councils.

A step towards long-term change

As a movement, our long-term aim is to restore playing out as a normal part of children’s everyday lives. This will take a real social shift, and political commitment to creating more permanently child-friendly streets, estates and neighbourhoods. Meanwhile play streets are a great temporary solution and an achievable and very important step towards this.

If you want to start playing out on your street but the council has been reluctant or unsure about the idea, now is the time to get back in touch! This template letter might help – do let us know how you get on or contact us if you need any help.


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