It sits intact but with paint peeling, daubed with bits of graffiti, a solitary piece of play equipment on an oblong island of cushioned flooring.

While it has surely brought children joy, it would be generous to call this slide in Fairfield a “play area”.

Certainly to one councillor, it represents what has gone wrong with Stockton’s play provision, which a new report says has not seen major investment since 2008.

“The lonely slide in Limbrick Avenue is a classic example of what is so sad about some of our play areas. There’s one lowly slide in a lovely green patch, and why, because we haven’t replaced equipment,” said Councillor Lynn Hall.

The Northern Echo: Councillor Lynn HallCouncillor Lynn Hall (Image: Contributor)Ropner Park is faring better, as workmen start on welcome improvements to the children’s play area.

“Thank you that Ropner Park is getting a refurb at long last,” said Cllr Hall, who represents Hartburn, at a Stockton Council meeting.

“It is a well-used park, it’s been in disrepair for some time now. It’s only ever had two swings. Many people have more swings in their own back garden really.”

Mary Gray, 66, in the park with her three-year-old granddaughter, says: “There’s only two, you’ve got to queue.

“This is a great play area. We come here every time,” she says, while pleased to see it spruced up: “It’s been a long time coming.”

The council’s executive scrutiny committee has been told how the authority cannot maintain its play areas with current squeezed budgets.

Play equipment has “no plan for the future” and it is “not sustainable to keep all existing play sites open”.

It has been recommended the council draws up a strategy and proposals to remove or repurpose some sites to save money. As in most other areas, “difficult decisions” lay ahead.

Some communities have been neglected with no play parks, the committee heard. Others had to make do with developers “ticking a box” with low-quality spaces in return for being allowed to build houses.

Cllr Kevin Faulks, who represents Ingleby Barwick South, said of two developer agreements: “There’s nothing there, virtually nothing there. I couldn’t understand why you called them parks actually.”

Cllr Paul Rowling introduced the crime and disorder select committee’s report on play parks, their distribution, maintenance and accessibility. He said: “Some families find those doorstep residential parks very very important, particularly for younger people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).

“Whilst they’re not used widely, they’re really important as somewhere for people to take their family because sometimes our big destination parks can be too much.

"We want the local authority to come up with a strategy for our management of play parks, to really think about what we should have and where we should have it, to make sure it’s spread equally across the borough.

“Some play parks have been put in certain areas that aren’t particularly good quality, that aren’t particularly well used. There are examples of play parks that potentially, some members were of the view, have been put there to tick a box and aren’t of sufficient quality.

“We are aware that some difficult decisions are to be made. There just isn’t the funding there at the minute for the replacement of equipment and maintenance.”

Cllr Niall Innes, who represents Hartburn, said: “The west of Stockton in particular has not had the resource in such a long time.” And he referred to concerns about how a lavish urban park, currently being built in Stockton town centre for 2026, could affect other areas.

He said: “It’s gone forward to be put in place. But it seems to have happened without any foresight as to how it’s going to be maintained.

“People believe doorstep parks are something that’s really key to them. There is the concern that, why have we allowed the go-ahead for the waterfront park when there’s no real plan for how that’s going to maintained.

“The west of Stockton has been neglected on that front and we have to give the kids the doorstep parks they need without us pulling the rug from their feet and just putting all the emphasis on the town centre.”

He also urged better negotiations with developers to provide parks quicker as residents of new estates were having to wait a long time for the areas under housing deals.

Cllr Hall also raised the issue of costs: “It does make my eyes water sometimes when I’m given costings from the council whether it’s to put a bench in or a bin. We should really be spending on play equipment.”

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Cllr Rowling replied maintenance of the waterfront park was in council financial plans, with funding agreed and assurances sought: “The committee was just very desperate to understand what would be happening.

“In terms of the doorstep parks, I think we came to the view that potentially whilst some are useful, some are not. There was a tour of the sites.

“There was a couple in Ingleby Barwick that are shoved down the end of groves. When local residents were consulted about it (they said) ‘What’s this here for? We don’t use it.’ There are four or five ones that are quite close to each other that we discovered don’t have that high play value.”

He said “rationalising” might mean removing one of those areas and spending money on better used parks, and they hoped good-quality doorstep parks would be prioritised in places without them. But he did not agree with that maintenance had fallen behind.

“Clearly the team are working to a much smaller budget and there’s much less human resource. I do accept everything’s not perfect and things can’t be maintained the way they were.

“We can’t do things like we used to so it’s important that we get this strategy in place. I’m not aware of any magic money tree that’s coming our way, regardless of what party could be in government. This is the new reality to stay.”

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Councillors referred to a “cocktail” of other funding sources such as using ward budgets, councillor allowances, business sponsorship, charity, lottery funding, developer money and community engagement.

Cllr Jim Beall said: “Working with officers and community groups, I’ve found to be the most beneficial way to take things forward. They’re in a position to apply for stuff that the council can’t apply for.

“The default position should not be, ‘What can the council do here?’ We need to look at all opportunities.”