Bitter row over North Walsham play equipment

A bitter argument has broken out in a usually-tranquil north Norfolk community over two eight-foot lengths of wood.

Parents claim the timber - two balance bars - was well-used by their children as part of a popular and much-valued play area.

But a couple whose home was nearest the bars say they had become the focus of anti-social behaviour which was making their lives intolerable.

The long-simmering row reached boiling point this week when North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) took the bars away, causing outrage among families.

The bars were part of five small items of wooden play equipment on an area of grassed open space surrounded by homes off North Walsham's Birds Road.

Parents say children aged seven to 15 regularly use the grassed area for activities including football, dance routines, singing sessions, chatting and sunbathing.

Mother-of-two Emma Holmes, whose Gigli Close home overlooks the green, said friends who did not live on the estate were jealous that her nine and seven-year-old could play outside with other children in complete safety and within her sight.

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Bonny Minton, of Birds Road, said she had first been attracted to the area by seeing trikes, scooters and other children's toys left on the green while their owners were having tea.

'Obviously everybody thought it was a safe place, where nothing would get stolen,' said Mrs Minton, who has children aged 10 and eight.

Children playing on the green did get noisy, according to Sarah Baxter, of Birds Road, but it was only the natural laughter and excitement of boys and girls. 'They're kids - you expect that. It's better that they're out there playing than sitting at their computers getting obese,' added Mrs Baxter, who has a 12-year-old child.

The parents believe NNDC over-reacted by removing the bars in response to the couple's complaints and to a council questionnaire sent to 22 homes which they claim was unclear, inconclusive and should have been distributed more widely.

'They've taken away some of the few things our children get enjoyment from. Why did this couple choose to buy a house next to a play area?' said mother-of-four Odette Britchford, of Wrights Close.

The couple, who asked not to be identified, said they had no problem with the ordinary noise of playing but the bars were attracting up to 16 children and teenagers at a time who would sit on them 'shrieking and screeching' for up to two hours, sometimes until 9pm.

'We couldn't hear our TV and were having to rely on subtitles,' said the wife. 'Nobody should be expected to tolerate that. It is anti-social behaviour.'

Her husband stressed that at no stage had they asked for the bars to be removed. They had just wanted them repositioned, away from their home. None of the parents had volunteered to have them outside their property, he added.

Community relationships have deteriorated since April when a heated argument between the couple and a father over his child's behaviour resulted in the pair dialling 999 because they claimed they were being heavily intimidated.

A police spokesman said: 'Groups of young people were gathering at the play equipment which was not being used for its intended purpose.

'Local residents were given the opportunity, by the police and our local authority partners, to comment on proposals to remove or relocate the balance bar. After consideration and taking into account all responses, removal was agreed as the course of action.'

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