Protesters from the Parsonage Road area in Kircubbin who gathered together to oppose the closure of their play park.

by Iain Gray

PLANS to close a Kircubbin playground have been paused after a huge public outcry. Ards and North Down Council last week agreed to bow to pressure from villagers and see if officials can brainstorm other options for the site.

In October last year, the council voted to shutter a playground on Parsonage Road to facilitate a £170,000 upgrade to a play park at The Green, on the other side of the village. The council also agreed to consider an idea of turning the Parsonage Road site into a sensory garden – but the move was greeted by a wave of anger from Kircubbin residents. Several protests took place as local families called for the playground to be saved, arguing that they need the play facilities as young kids can’t easily reach The Green from the opposite side of Kircubbin.

In February, parents even had to physically block workmen from demolishing the site as their campaign to keep it gathered strength, while a 400-strong petition demanded the council back down. Last Wednesday night, the local authority agreed to rescind its decision to close the playground. The U-turn was endorsed by all six Ards peninsula councillors, including two who originally voted to scrap it at a committee meeting last October.

The move doesn’t mean the Parsonage Road site is completely out of the woods just yet, as officials still have to bring forward new ideas about what to do with it – but it’s at least a reprieve. Arguing that the local authority needed to reverse course on the issue, councillor Pete Wray suggested a public consultation that seemed to show Kircubbin residents wanted to upgrade The Green but scrap Parsonage Road was fatally flawed.

“The school beside The Green was consulted, but the school beside the play park on Parsonage Road was not,” he said. “We read that 76% were in favour of closing Parsonage Road and upgrading The Green, but we note that the top comment from respondents was that Kircubbin needs two play parks and residents shouldn’t be put into a position where they have to decide. During the consultation process, there certainly was no consensus. [Rescinding the closure] is about reflecting on what the community needs, reflecting on how we went about it and also trying to put that right. I think we have got this wrong.”

Mr Wray added that the council’s two presented options – close one park to upgrade another, or do subpar upgrades to both – had ‘created a toxic environment within the community, pitting one side [of Kircubbin] against the other’.

The U-turn was backed by councillor David Kerr, who said people use Parsonage Road playground every day, and councillor Joe Boyle, who felt the council needs to ‘take a step back and have a look at where we’re going with this’. Alderman Lorna McAlpine stated that most of the families who use the threatened playground didn’t know the closure consultation was running, which she argued pointed to flaws in the process.

The council unanimously agreed to pause the closure of Parsonage Road playground and bring back reports exploring alternative plans for the site.