WHERE once there were swings, a see-saw, slides and the sound of children’s laughter, now all that remains of a popular playground is a tiredlooking spring-mounted toy bike.

Soon, even that will be gone – the victim of a council health and safety “audit” that threatens to turn North-East playgrounds into wastegrounds like Durham City’s Allergate play area, pictured above. Parents and children say they could not believe their play equipment had been torn from the ground and taken away.

But Durham County Council has ruled that the play equipment constitutes a safety risk – despite the playground having no history of accidents.

The council began removing swings, a slide, a see-saw and a roundabout two weeks ago.

Last night, a council spokeswoman said if other playgrounds were judged to pose a safety risk, they too could be stripped of equipment.

The authority was consulting local councillors on changes to individual play areas, but could not give any names or numbers until consultation had been completed, the spokeswoman said.

Parents who used the Allergate play area slammed the moves as “health and safety gone mad”.

They said the facility had been established for many years and was well-used by families, visitors and a neighbouring nursery. Ruth Chambers, who lives nearby, said: “The playground’s been used for ten to 15 years plus. It seems crazy that they have suddenly decided it is not suitable.

It is very puzzling.”

Sarah Loach, of nearby Brass Thill, said: “People are always talking about kids getting more exercise and then the council takes the play equipment away.”

“It’s a real shame,” she added.

Ruth Pierce, another resident, said: “My son keeps asking when the slide is coming back.

“We used to come down here quite regularly. It is great for fresh air. It is a great walkthrough location – people often stopped off here for half an hour. Now I have to take my boys up to Wharton Park and I have to drive there.”

Nigel Dodds, Durham County Council’s sport and leisure manager, said the equipment was removed after it was identified as posing a health and safety risk during an annual inspection and risk audit and had been removed because it was unsuitable for upgrading.

He said most of the equipment was manufactured before 1998, when European safety standards replaced the British predecessors, and therefore did not meet modern day requirements. The council has not ruled out installing new equipment at Allergate, but Mr Dodds said that would depend on the outcome of a countywide play strategy, which is still being drawn up.

Under the Government’s Playbuilder scheme, 11 County Durham play areas were improved during 2009, at a cost of £1.2m and, earlier this year, another £603,000 was earmarked to upgrade a further 13 play areas.