The sound of innocent laughter and shrieks of joy are no longer heard at any of Newcastle’s play parks. Deterioration, damage to play equipment, and use of the parks for nefarious purposes has seen a steady decline of children utilising these facilities.

Many parents feel that the broken equipment pose a danger to their children and are unwilling to take the risk of injury. In addition to this, parks are littered with used condoms, broken bottles, needles and other drug-related enhancements and concerned residents are fearful of exposing their children to such dangers. Unfenced parks and a lack of security have allowed individuals to use the parks to carry out their seedy activities, the evidence of which is strewn across the parks.

Responding to a media inquiry The Newcastle Express, Head of communications at the Newcastle Municipality, Dr Dumisani (PD) Thabethe said that public play parks were built in order to bring recreation and joy to all who use them.

“These parks have fallen prey to acts of vandalism, destruction and ageing. The department raised these concerns earlier this month to the Community Services Portfolio Standing Committee that lack of repairs and routine maintenance of playground equipment can leave the play parks in a state of neglect,” he said.

However, despite this concern of the department, no budget has been allocated for repairs, maintenance or upgrades to any play park in Newcastle for the 2019/20 financial year-translating to even further and faster deterioration to the already crumbling parks. This is also owing to the Newcastle Municipality’s financial woes. Asked what measures would be put in place to avoid injury to anyone still using any park, Thabethe said: “The Department of Community Services has resorted to removing damaged equipment rather than repairing them due to financial constraints. Damaged equipment has raised safety concerns for our patrons.  Reduction in security personnel assigned at municipal play parks  has made it impossible for the department to ensure that there are proper controls in place to prevent abuse and vandalism  of these facilities,” he said.

When it comes to the cleaning of parks, Thabethe said that litter picking is done on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday weekly. Tough economic factors have resulted in parents being unable to afford to splurge on their children, and the parks were previously seen as a cost effective activity that kids could still enjoy.