MOTHERS have slammed a "crazy" decision to ban prams from a popular children’s centre.

Parents claim staff at the Mount Pleasant Sure Start Centre in Darlington have forbidden them from bringing prams into their building, citing health and safety reasons.

Following a risk assessment, staff are handing parents bicycle locks and instructing them to chain up prams outside the building.

The decision has angered regular visitors to the centre, which offers a range of services aimed at parents and children.

A number of people approached The Northern Echo to complain about the rule, believed to have been instated about three weeks ago.

Parents say the change is driving people away from the centre and means prams could be stolen or damaged.

Concerns include having to place newborn babies into cold prams, disturbing sleeping children and being unable to easily collect older siblings.

Darlington Borough Council have denied an outright ban, but admit requesting parents leave prams outside following the risk assessment.

The buggy ban means Darlington mother Emma Easterby, 34, is no longer able to take her four-month-old daughter Alexis to use the sensory room at the centre.

She said: “My baby has underdeveloped eyesight and doctors told me to use the sensory room there but I can’t now as I can’t take her pram in.

“I’m really upset about it and she’s suffering as a result – I’ve had to go out and buy sensory things for her but there’s a free room there.

“The staff have been abrupt and say it’s health and safety but that never stopped us before – I’ve been going there for three months, the prams weren't causing problems or blocking corridors.

“It’s disgusting, people spend lots of money on prams and I couldn’t afford to replace mine if it was stolen, it’s a rough estate and they could be targeted.

“If they don’t want people to bring them in, they need to provide a secure place to put them in, or use an empty room.”

After refusing to leave her pram unattended, Natalie Henderson claims she was told to take her baby to another centre to be weighed.

The 28-year-old said: “I went to the centre twice a week until they told me to leave my pram outside.

“I’m not putting my baby into a freezing cold pram – it needs sorting, I can’t get my baby weighed.

“They say it’s health and safety but that’s rubbish, it’s supposed to be a centre for babies and children – I can’t even go to the mother and toddler group.”

The Government’s health and safety executive (HSE) responded to similar cases by saying: “There is no health and safety reason for a blanket ban on buggies and prams in a children’s centre.

“Seeking a solution that works for everyone would be infinitely preferable to hiding behind quoting ‘health and safety’ as a blanket excuse.”

Darlington’s MP Jenny Chapman said the move could put parents off accessing services.

She said: “Only a crazy person would insist parents wake their sleeping children before they’re ready.

“I’m sure there were sound practical reasons for suggesting the rule but we need to make sure nothing puts parents off accessing services.”

A spokeswoman for Darlington Borough Council said they would be making further enquiries into the situation at Mount Pleasant.

Jenni Cooke, Service Director, Children, Families and Learning with Darlington Borough Council added: “We haven’t banned people from bringing prams and buggies into the centre but it is a question of safety for everyone who uses it.

“We’ve asked people to use their judgement, particularly at busy times, and park their prams and buggies in the covered, on-site buggy park and will provide locks and help people get in and out of the centre if they need help.”