We were contacted recently by a parent concerned about accessibility in the new children’s playground at Royal Greenwich Park. She wrote to Royal Parks expressing disappointment, and pointed out that this is not just a missed opportunity but also may not be compliant with the standards set out in the Equalities Act 2010.
Royal Parks asked their architects LUC to reply. Here’s what they said:
“The recently completed refurbishment works at Greenwich Park playground is the third phase of improvement works in an on-going series of enhancement works by The Royal Parks. The project began with the additional play pieces to the eastern end of the playground and refurbishment of the sand pit as part of the legacy of holding the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics events in the Park. In Phase 2 a Masterplan was prepared along with a strategy for phasing future works (due to budget constraints), based on a ‘Pioneering’ theme to reflect Greenwich’s history as the starting place for explorers to sail out and discover the new world. A central piece of equipment in the form of a large tepee was installed to replace an old play piece that has been damaged due to wear and tear.
– The third phase of work sought to implement the next stage of this vision Masterplan and to continue the approach towards a more natural play based area that better integrates into the setting of the Park. Numerous old pieces of play equipment nearing the end of their lifespan were also replaced.
– The sequence of the different phases of work moves from east to west across the width of the playground, which is logical in the sense that the main vehicular entrance into the playground is on the far western boundary. Therefore each new phase of work is unlikely to obstruct or damage previously completed phases.
– The completed phase is geared towards the more junior age group (approx. 5-10 years), although it provides something for each of the age groups. The eastern end caters for more older children, while the future proposal for the western end is aimed towards younger children with more accessible play features.
– The new scheme is comprised of a series of open areas for social and competitive play, with more intimate spaces offering a sense of exploration and discovery. A new network of paths have been designed to link these zones, around a central dry river bed that runs organically through the centre of the site. This river bed will continue into the later phase and is designed to expand into a flatter open space. The ornamental shrub, perennial and tree planting create a sensory environment to help soften the aesthetic appearance and create a more varied and playful space.
– The design was laid out with accessibility of all users in mind, and aimed to marry in with the existing ground levels where possible, with accessible routes to all areas. In some areas the levels were adjusted to create a sense of excitement and a challenging transition between different zones, which wouldn’t be easily accessible by everyone but could be with assistance. Whilst the use of steps was avoided there are some stepped areas, that can be playful features for some children. The new play equipment pieces were chosen because they offer a broad range of interests and activities both at higher level and at ground level. The swings were the most popular item from the existing playground, and were reinstated with the same number of seats. The accompanying plan demonstrates the accessible areas that are completed (in blue), with the current future proposal (in red).
– Whilst the majority of the new surfacing is a level, fixed surface such as rubberised play safety surfacing, there are some areas of play bark which can be challenging to some people with mobility issues. Play bark is a natural material and enables children to connect with their natural surroundings while creating a softer play environment. As the playground has only just been completed the bark needs time to settle and compact, after which it will form more of a stable surface, as can be seen in some of the earlier completed phases to the east end of the playground.
– At LUC we adopt an ‘Access for All’ policy towards all designs that we carry out, as we believe that all users should be able to enjoy the outdoor environment. Park users can comprise of the elderly, children with mobility issues, visibility and hearing impairments and even mothers with very young children and prams can suffer with difficulties of access. We ensure that all of our schemes comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010, as well as the UK Building Regulations 2000 (and various amendments), notably Parts K and M.
Throughout the development of the master plan we consulted with our Friends Group and held consultation days within the playground itself , displaying the plans and listening to feedback.”
Viv and Jo from GPV visited the park on a busy Saturday, and found it to be very cramped, and inaccessible for children with mobility problems needing carer support and certainly for any child using a wheelchair.