Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Developer Balfour Beatty and Denbighshire council have been accused of ignoring the needs of children by tearing down a playground in the impoverished Welsh town of Rhyl to make way for a £92m flood defense project.
Townspeople told the Guardian they had not received any notice that the popular Drift Park playground would be removed, despite the consultation process being conducted with global engineering consultants Mott MacDonald.
One parent, Rose, said: “I didn’t know he was gone until I passed and he was gone. It is a blow to families to have lost this play area. It was modern and had something for everyone. Rhyl’s other play areas are very neglected.”
Lauren Whatmough used the playground regularly. She said: ‘I go there every week, but I only learned on Facebook that it had been taken down – I was really shocked.’
Balfour Beatty is contracted to replace Drift Park after the three-year building work is complete, a period so long it is officially described as ‘permanent’ removal.
The council, which is facing calls from local residents and politicians, including local Senedd member Gareth Thomas, to relocate the playground, said it had considered moving it to other local spaces, but that none were suitable.
The documents show that the council did not draw up a list of alternative sites until last month – after the planning process had concluded – and only in response to a complaint from a member of the public.
The board admitted the list was drawn up in April and no reports had been made at the time, but said discussions of alternative sites had been conversational.
Families have said the years of closure of the playground would be a huge loss for the poorest ward in Wales.
Jade, a 29-year-old mother of two, said: “I live in Rhyl and struggle with everyday life. One of the things that I enjoyed with my kids and that gave us time to bond was going to Drift Park and now they’ve torn it down. We don’t drive and the only other park near us is tiny compared to Drift. I’m so sad it’s gone.
A Rhyl campaigner who asked to be called Dr Steele told the Guardian he felt the children’s needs had been ignored throughout the planning process and more attention had been paid to the impact of the construction on seals at a nearby aquarium. .
“In the meeting where this project was approved, questions were asked about the impact the construction works would have on the seals at the SeaQuarium. But nobody mentioned the children and their playground.
“Communication was painful. None of the planning drawings show the playground being removed, and a leaflet Mott MacDonald distributed to homes closest to the construction site did not even mention the playground.
“West Rhyl is one of the poorest and most unhealthy neighborhoods in Wales and I believe that taking valuable green space for families to build an access road for a building site is in direct breach of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 . “
The act is a law that requires public entities to consider seven community health and wellness goals in their decisions.
Steele wrote to the council and to Mott MacDonald to complain about the lack of consultation of families. He said: “It is shameful that a group that has no voice – children – has been affected so significantly without consultation.”
In an email seen by the Guardian, a senior Denbighshire council official replied that a consultation would “raise expectations”.
The official wrote: “We have already identified that the temporary closure would have a large negative effect. We would have raised expectations of outcomes that were not necessarily feasible if we had consulted the children about the removal of the play area.”
The council insists they had no choice but to close the playground and that there are enough play areas locally for families.
A statement read: “There are three other play areas in close proximity to Drift Park. Furthermore, Rhyl has one of the largest and best beaches in Wales.
“The evaluation process concluded that relocation of the playing area was not feasible…and that the remaining lay-out nearby would be adequate for the duration of the coastal defense works…Council hopes to identify further funding for build an improved play area that is fully accessible once the construction work is completed”.
A Balfour Beatty spokesman said: “The playground has been removed so that critical coastal protection work can be carried out safely. We will be working with Denbighshire County Council to provide a new facility, once our essential works have been completed.”
The construction company reported a year-on-year profit of £279 million in March, up 42% from £197 million a year earlier.
Mott MacDonald did not respond to requests for comment or further explanation of their role. In an email defending the consultation process to a resident, it said, “Mott MacDonald handled the distribution of the resident’s letter for the pre-application consultation. Notification of the consultation period was provided through a number of channels in line with planning guidelines and included a resident postal message, press releases, social media posts and the Denbighshire County Council website.