FAQs for Local Authorities
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions from councils. If you have any others, or would like a copy of our Street Play Toolkit for local authorities, please get in touch.
Webinars/ e-learning for local authorities
We recently ran a series of webinars for local authorities, all the recordings can be watched back here.
Is it difficult to set up?
I work in a District Council and Highways are at a County Level
What goes into a standard application form?
How often do people close streets?
How do you deal with objections?
Do we need to train volunteers to close roads?
What are the best ways to promote playing out in my area?
The great thing about street play is that it can tick so many boxes – public health, active travel, physical activity, play, community, sustainability…you just need to find the issue that resonates with the person you want to get on board.
We have some wonderful stories in our blogs about the difference that Playing Out makes in communities. We also have research from the University of Bristol showing that sessions increase physical activity for children.
See here for an overview of the impact that playing out is having for children and street communities.
Although no formal cost/benefit analysis has been done yet of a street play scheme. Playing Out has been called, “A low cost, multi-generational initiative” by Bristol public health officer Clare Lowman. The initial Bristol pilot was costed at £6 per participant, which included promotion as well as implementation. Read about the public health benefits in more detail here.
Local Government across the UK has been encouraged by the Marmot report and influential think-tanks to take a ‘Health in All Policies Approach’. This is because some of the best ways to influence long-term good health come through policies relating jobs, education, transport and planning.
However, changes to these policy areas all have long-term benefits to health that are difficult to measure. The King’s Fund has produced a table, giving guidelines showing the relationship between taking action in different policy areas and health benefits and the strength of the evidence in favour.
|Area||Scale of problem in relation to public health||Strengths of evidence of actions||Impact on health||Speed of impact on health||Contribution to reducing inequalities|
|Best start in life||Highest||Highest||Highest||Longest||Highest|
|Healthy schools and pupils||Highest||Highest||Highest||Longer||Highest|
|Jobs and work||Highest||Highest||Highest||Quicker||Highest|
|Active and safe travel||High||High||High||Longer||Lower|
|Warmer and safer homes||Highest||Highest||High||Longer||High|
|Strong communities, wellbeing and resilience||High||High||High||Longer||High|
|Health and spatial planning||Highest||High||Highest||Longest||Highest|
Table from: Health in All policies, a manual for local government. Chapter 9, Evidence and Data.
So, putting a temporary street play policy in place and then administering the applications is a policy that falls into several areas: strong communities, best start in life (increased physical activity for children) and active and safe travel. It can be seen from the table that these impacts are longer and two have the category of ‘highest’ for the scale of the problem in relation to public health.
Street play has huge long-term benefits for both health and social cohesion. Together, Playing Out’s recent survey and research by the University of Bristol showed four major benefits:
• Children’s health and wellbeing
• Stronger, more connected communities
• Increased active citizenship
• Culture change arounds streets, children and play.
Following on from this, it is possible to infer that making a small increase in the Highways administration budget to enable street play to take place will have profound long-term benefits. It may be possible to use funding from public health sources, as in Bristol and Hackney.
It should be remembered that the bulk of the work in opening streets for play is done by residents and so the cost-benefit ratios for this as an effective public health intervention are high.
The minimum cost of implementation is the administrative duty of processing the temporary road closure applications, and the setting up of the scheme. If your authority already has a street party application process in place, the administrative process is very similar. The authorities where Playing Out is well established and promoted (such as Bristol) typically have about 20-40 streets a year applying.
In authority areas that use the Road Traffic Regulation Act (mostly London Boroughs) there is currently a requirement to advertise streets to be closed in local newspapers. Many authorities create an annual time slot for applications so they can be bundled together to save advertising costs, although this is not ideal for residents. Some have managed to get this cost covered through sustainable transport grants.
Ideally, local authorities will also find a way to fund or provide some ‘on the ground’ support for residents, especially in areas of higher deprivation. This could be provided by a resident group or a local organisation, or by a council officer with good asset-based community development skills. Please contact us to find out what support is needed and talk through how this would best work in your area.
Possible extra costs include:
• Provision of road signs and kit boxes for residents
• Other direct support for residents where needed
• Promotion and publicity
The police are generally very supportive of playing out as a way to increase community cohesion. We encourage organisers to contact their local police community support officers to let them know a closure is happening, so they can come along to lend a friendly presence. Read our blog from Bristol’s Chief Inspector Kevan Rowlands why he sees street play as a way to make communities safer.
There have been a couple of incidents of drivers behaving aggressively or challenging road closures in Bristol and police have been extremely supportive in confirming the legitimacy of the ‘playing out’ model – attending sessions, speaking to drivers about their behaviour and in one instance arresting a driver who was subsequently prosecuted for dangerous driving.
There is a sound legal basis for temporary play streets. The Department for Transport last year wrote to all UK councils encouraging them to support play streets and advising them about which legal routes to use. They followed this up by publishing updated guidance on temporary traffic regulation orders for play streets (scroll down to point 4).
There are at least three pieces of legislation in use that can form the basis of a local street play policy; the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act, the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act chapter 27 Part II, section 16 and the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act chapter 27 Part III, sections 29 & 31. There is also the possibility of using the Localism Act but as far as we know no council has yet done so.
It should be noted that there has been one court case involving dangerous driving during the time a street play order has been in force, and the judge upheld the legality of the temporary order.
Liability is usually a question that comes up for councils setting up a street play policy. However by authorising residents to periodically close their streets for play, the council is not taking on the residents’ liability.
Councils exercise their duty by checking up that the residential street, or section of street due to be closed is not a main road or bus route and that the proposed closures can be managed safely and sensibly.
Many local authorities implementing street play recommend public that residents take out public liability insurance, but very few stipulate that it is mandatory. We take our direction from the department for community and local government’s advice on street parties.
To meet their ‘duty of care’ many councils ensure that residents are aware of their responsibilities and minimise any risk or attempt of a claim by requiring residents to sign an indemnity clause. It should be noted that neither this nor public liability insurance would indemnify the authority from anything it may be negligent of, regarding for example, in cases of slipping or tripping on faulty pavements. See our guidance on insurance here;
(We also have this blog written by the insurance broker Ladbrokes which sums up the issues).
Our FAQs for residents has a section on ‘Responsibility and Liability.’
For risks to the local authority, refer to our FAQ on Insurance.
To manage risks for residents around closing the road safely, we provide very thorough guidance and a template risk assessment to download, see here and here. Our FAQs for residents cover issues around risk, including questions about safeguarding.
The risks must be seen in proportion to the benefits of closing streets regularly so children can play. We invite local authorities to also consider the risk of not supporting play streets. Playing Out has written a risk benefit analysis of its model on a national basis.
Children are still the responsibility of their parents or carers at all times during a playing out session. The road closed barriers are stewarded at all times so children can be reminded to stay within the closed area.
There is a small risk that a car driver will ignore the closure and drive down the street. Risk assessments mandated by most authorities mean that stewards have effective ways to warn people that the road is not safe (usually whistles). Where a driver ignored a barrier a successful prosecution took place.
This briefing by officers at Adur and Worthing Councils has a very useful section on attitudes to risk.
In July 2020 we ran a webinar “Getting your play street policy right for residents” – you can watch it for free here.
The minimum a council can do to support street play is to put a simple application process in place that allows residents to apply to close their streets regularly. This may involve a political process and will take a certain amount of time, but there are many existing authorities with policies that can give advice and guidance on how to do it.
The six key ingredients outline what is needed to develop a successful street play culture in an area. The essential steps are:
(a) Putting a policy in place
It is always best to build on what is already there, and so for example, if there is an existing street party application process in place it can often form the basis of a temporary street play application process.
This Officer Report from Worthing and Adur Councils clearly sets out the benefits and the arguments for a council street play policy.
(b) Make your policy accessible
In order to get residents to act, you need to make things easy for them, making your application process simple, accessible, searchable and easy to use. Ensure you link to the Playing Out website so residents can access our free materials and support.
Providing road closure kit, offering direct support and promoting your policy will help establish street play in an area, but steps (a) and (b) are essential.
Several two-tier councils have implemented Playing Out, including West and East Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
Good communication with the county Highways team is required, and in districts where playing out has been implemented by a district authority the administrative work has been carried out within the district council, with the county teams as statutory consultees.
For example, in Adur and Worthing the team managing the street play application process receives the applications and then sends them out to County Highways and the police and fire services before granting a permit.
In Bristol and many other areas, the public health teams have been supportive of street play – in some cases providing funding for support. The public health teams in the County Authorities may be aware of street play and able to support you to implement it in your area.
Some authorities such as Cambridgeshire, have implemented Playing Out at a county level and have simply produced the application forms for residents to apply directly to the County Highways authority.
We have an editable template we can send you, email us on email@example.com.
The standard application form used in most cities sets out certain conditions for the closure including:
- Neighbour consultation
- A plan showing clearly defined area of closure and signage/diversion placement
- A clear time frame by which the application by which the applications have to be made
- The stipulation to maintain vehicular access to residential properties
- The stipulation for any vehicles to be escorted at walking speed within the closure
- The stipulation for volunteer stewards to ensure the safety of the road closure
- Emergency vehicle access to be maintained at all times
- No requirement to move parked vehicles
This form gives sufficient information to inform you that the residents understand what they are doing.The notice period, gives time for consultation and checks and for particular concerns such as bus routes.
In some authority areas the applications are passed to the street maintenance department and/or emergency services.
This is very much down to each street and how much time people have to make it happen. The most common frequency is once a month. Some streets close once a week and some once a fortnight. Some only do it a few times a year. Most Local Authorities allow a maximum frequency of three hours a week.
A minority of people – even those who themselves benefitted from playing out as children – do find the idea of periodically restricting through traffic on a street difficult. Please refer to our Possible Concerns page, which covers all the concerns and objections we have come across, the same ones tend to come up again and again.
Even if there is no particular reason to object to a temporary play street, some people just don’t like change and will object to the idea in principle. These concerns should be listened to but it is important that the benefits to the whole street community are weighed up against the objections of those who don’t like the idea. Both Bristol and Hackney councils took the decision that only material objections (e.g. if the street was unsuitable or unsafe) would be used as a reason for a temporary play street to not go ahead.
In several places, even strong objectors have changed their minds once they have witnessed it, and found that the inconvenience to them was actually very low. Some have even become the most active supporters!
Playing Out provides in depth guidance for residents in our free Playing Out Manual, as well as two films you are welcome to use, which provide detailed demonstrations from Duncan Venison, Network Manager at Bristol City Council, see here and here.
When considering the question of supporting residents to safely close their street, firstly please keep in mind:
- play streets generally take place on cul-de-sacs or quiet roads outside of rush hour – residents aren’t dealing with large amounts of traffic
- residents who want to organise play streets are often extremely responsible citizens but also time poor, juggling jobs and childcare. They are organising the play street in their spare time, providing a huge benefit for their community at very little cost to the council
For these reasons it is inappropriate to ask residents to undertake Chapter 8 training, which is designed for traffic management operatives, who are closing busy highways as part of their every day jobs.
None of the councils with a successful play street scheme require in person training, they tend to offer some brief written guidance on how to close the road. One council has developed a 20minute e-learning module, if you’re interested in this we can put you in touch with them. Some councils offer in person support for the first play street session; someone who has done it before will attend and help brief the stewards and show them how to do it.
Most authorities are content with a competent person closing what are always quiet residential streets so long as they understand the methodology set out by Playing Out.
In July 2020 we ran a webinar called “How to promote Play Streets” – you can watch it for free here.
Street play is very effectively spread by word-of-mouth. Once it has happened on one street, people often hear about it through friends and contacts.
Playing Out can advise on methods that have succeeded in the past. The local media are often very interested in play streets and this will help increase awareness.
We have also used Facebook advertising, which can be targeted to local areas and can direct people directly to the street play section of your website.
Our local authority street play toolkit has much more information – please contact us for a copy.