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Legal basis for play streets

There is a clear legal basis for play streets, demonstrated by over 80 local authorities already enabling them around the UK.

In 2019, the Department for Transport 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 four).

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
  • The 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act chapter 27 Part III, sections 29 and 31.

There is also the possibility of using the Localism Act but as far as we know no council has yet done so. There are pros and cons to each but all are a sound legal basis for play streets: read more here.

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, using the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act.

If you have any questions about this, do contact us.

Liability and risk management

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.

It is important to remember that play streets are a very local, low key activity, and take place for a few hours on one quiet residential street, outside of rush hour (usually after school or on the weekend). This is a very different context from roadworks or large events such as a parade or marathon – so it needs a different approach.

For reassurance and tips from an expert, listen to our interview with Senior Engineer and legal expert Gary Pritchard at Leeds City Council, talking about these issues and their highly successful play streets scheme with well over 60 streets taking part.

Council responsibilities

Upon receipt of an application for street play, councils exercise their duty by checking that the residential street, or section of street due to be closed is not a main road or bus route.

On your street play webpage, councils should provide some guidance and a point of contact to help residents plan the closure points and any advance warning signs necessary. Most councils provide road closure signage and barriers free of charge – see some options here.

Public liability insurance (PLI)

Many local authorities permitting street play recommend that residents take out PLI, but very few stipulate that it is mandatory. The cost is prohibitive for residents, especially those in lower-income areas; the few councils that do insist residents take out PLI have seen very low numbers of streets playing out.

We take our direction from the department for community and local government’s advice on street parties, which states that insurance is not necessary for small scale road closures.

Indemnity clause

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, such as faulty pavements.

Find more detailed guidance on insurance here: public liability insurance for street play – some factors for local authorities to take into consideration. We also have this information from the insurance broker Ladbrook which sums up the issues.

You can download a template Temporary Play Street Order (TPSO) for free and edit as you see fit. This is largely based on the first successful TPSO developed by Bristol City Council in collaboration with Playing Out and has been copied by many councils around the UK. This is a tried and tested policy but there may still be room for you to make it even more straightforward for residents!

Residents managing road closures

There are many ways to support residents to safely prepare and manage their play street closures. Preparation and (simple) risk assessments are very important for safety. Playing Out has a wealth of accessible resources to help residents plan and steward safely on the day (see below). Please read / watch these – many councils are happy to signpost to us whilst providing a small amount of additional localised guidance.

It is important to remember that residents are doing this in their own time, to great benefit for their community. Requirements must be balanced against this, as well as the relatively low risk of a short closure on a quiet residential street. It is not appropriate or necessary to require them to read official traffic management documents or attend lengthy training. Where a few councils have required this, play streets have not succeeded.

Here are some of the ways that councils successfully support residents to manage closures:

  • Signpost clearly to Playing Out website and guidance on play streets
  • Recommend that resident organisers do a simple risk assessment (template here)
  • Provide a phone number for a contact person so residents can talk it through if they would like to
  • Attend their first street play session and support them with stewarding
  • Provide a clear (jargon-free), short, written guidance document with pointers on where to position the closure points
  • Ask residents to complete a short, simple quiz based on our four simple steps videos, to make sure they have understood the process
  • Provide a free, short, child-friendly training session on how to prepare and steward – either online or in an accessible venue at a time that suits them. Playing Out can support you with this – please contact us.

Resources from Playing Out

We have developed free and very thorough guidance for residents, based on over 10 years of experience in safely running and supporting play streets. This includes a template risk assessment and steward training video, as well as detailed steward briefings. We recommend watching / reading through these and ask that councils signpost residents to this rich resource to help them safely manage a play street. If residents know about Playing Out and all that we offer, they can also connect with and gain support from a national network of parents and residents already doing play streets.

Our frequently asked questions for residents also has a section on responsibility and liability.

Local authority case studies

Have a read