New research shows that playgrounds continue to close at an alarming rate despite the government’s claims that they are tackling childhood obesity and mental health problems.

In April 2017, the Association of Play Industries Nowhere to Play report first uncovered the state of playground decline in England, revealing the closure of hundreds of playgrounds.  Using the Freedom of Information Act, the API has once again asked local authorities to disclose current and planned playground closures and found:

  • By 2020/21 there will have been a decrease in spend on play facilities of 44% since 2017/18
  • In 2016/17 local authorities closed 63 playgrounds and in 2017/18 a further 70 playgrounds have been closed.
  • Since 2014 local authorities have closed a total of 347 playgrounds across England.
  • There will be a decrease in spend on playgrounds of over £13m each year on average across England.
  • Local authorities estimate a decrease in their spending on playgrounds of £25m by 2021.

API Chair, Mark Hardy, says: “Something we all took for granted – safe, local and free spaces in which to play – is disappearing. Our latest research shows a very worrying picture indeed and, unless action is taken now, it seems we are in danger of losing playgrounds.  Let’s not forget that when a playground is neglected and closed it is often lost forever.

“The impact on the NHS of childhood obesity, poor fitness and mental health problems is sizeable. One of the root causes is that children are not playing outside as freely as they once did and this is partly because of the lack of local, high-quality and safe areas available for them to play in and socialise.  A relatively small investment by government could have huge social and health benefits for years to come.

“Outdoor play is essential to children’s development. They need playgrounds to develop vital social skills and these community spaces have a central role in children’s physical and mental health.  In the midst of an obesity epidemic and a mental health crisis we are calling on the government to make a significant and sustained investment in our playgrounds before it is too late.”



“This research comes at a time when we have the least physically active generation of children ever and when our focus should be on doing more to encourage and enable children to play out, not less. Play improves mental health and wellbeing, supports children’s physiological, cardiovascular and motor skills development, and helps them to maintain a healthy weight. It also fuels children’s imagination, creativity and expression.

We need to start thinking creatively about how to make play a greater part of childhood. I would like to see some of the proceeds of the sugar tax going towards promoting play and activity outside of school, including helping to make sure children have better access to playgrounds and parks. Play provision should also be strategically planned as part of each local authority’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and councils should be ensuring that adequate space for children to play is factored into new residential developments.”  Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England


“It goes without saying that well-equipped and maintained playgrounds are vital in countering childhood obesity.  Research conducted by Fields in Trust indicates that the NHS is saved some £111million a year due to regular users of such parks having fewer GP visits and improving community health. On the other hand, badly maintained parks and those without playgrounds are increasingly at risk of being sold off to assist Councils in pursuit of their other priorities. Such moves are very likely to be false economies.  We believe regular use of well-maintained playgrounds and parks is fundamental to community health and wellbeing.”
Tim Phillips, Chairman of Trustees Fields in Trust


No wonder playing out is in steep decline when you see the API’s latest research. How can families play outside when their local playgrounds are being closed? If the government is serious about tackling children’s mental health and obesity it has to reverse local government cuts and champion children’s right to play.” Nicola Butler, Chair of Trustees, Play England


“If we continue with this rate of decline, outdoor playgrounds will become out of reach for the majority of children – which will make for a duller, less healthy childhood for generations to come. What does it say about our local communities if together we cannot provide decent, safe play spaces for youngsters (and their parents!) to meet friends, explore and stay fit? The Government need to respond urgently to this latest data.” Christopher Leslie, MP


Playgrounds can fulfil a unique role in improving children’s physical activity, social interaction, fitness and physical and mental health.  There is strong evidence that children are more physically active when outdoors than when indoors: they move more, sit less and play for longer. Outdoor play is also associated with better social skills in preschool children, and those aged 7 -14 spending more time outdoors are found to be less likely to have peer relationship problems and have better psychosocial health.

There appears to have been a ‘rapid and dramatic’ change from outdoor to indoor time, with children playing outdoors far less than previous generations.  The provision of safe, local, stimulating and free spaces in which children can play is vital for this generation’s physical and mental health.” Dr Aric Sigman


Closing playgrounds is not only damaging children’s health by removing opportunities for active, social, free play, it’s making communities less cohesive and less safe for everyone.  Instead of closing playgrounds councils need to encourage and facilitate more use of them by the children they are designed for. Local communities can be encouraged to save and reinstate these valuable spaces to best serve their community. 

Playgrounds are safer than ever and parents should be supported in accessing these free local community resources rather than feeling trapped inside or having to travel significant distances to find play spaces for their children. 

I often hear the view that ‘playgrounds are not safe for children as they are used by young people as a hang-out and leaving alcohol bottles, cigarettes and broken glass’. But this is lazy and is confusing two issues. Youth provision needs sorting and children need safe, stimulating places to play. You don’t solve either problem by closing playgrounds.  Children will be less sociable and more likely to turn into teenagers who don’t value community spaces – and the young people currently misusing play spaces will simply find somewhere else. 

Prevention is so much more cost effective and efficient than cures. We need policy makers to understand and embrace this and keep playgrounds free, safe and open.  Dr Amanda Gummer, Fundamentally Children


“Playgrounds are part of the building blocks of childhood. We believe that they are fundamental to healthy development in children and their decline is a great cause for concern for us all.  Free and local access to these spaces should not be viewed as a luxury and top of list to cut in times of austerity.  It’s time now to realise their significance and importance and reverse this decline before it’s too late.  Any savings derived from closing playgrounds is short-term and short-sighted – the cost to an entire generation will be their physical and mental health and we support the API in their call for urgent government investment.”
Mary Lubrano, Federation of Sports and Play Associations


Mark Hardy, Chairman, Association of Play Industries, 07933 686222
Richard McKeever, Communications & Marketing Manager, Fields In Trust, 07940 072832
Dr Aric Sigman, [email protected]
Dr Amanda Gummer, Managing Direct/Founder, Fundamentally Children, 079683 27099
Sophie Bolt, Communications, Play England, 07802 722412
Chris Leslie MP, [email protected]
Mary Lubrano, Director of Communications/Strategy API/FSPA 07999 550452


The Association of Play Industries (API) is the lead trade body within the play sector and campaigns at the highest levels for policy recognition for play. Its members are leading manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of both outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. Founded in 1984, the API currently has 63 members.

Follow us on Twitter: @apiplay #Nowhere2play

The API operates under the umbrella of the Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA), the national trade body responsible for representing Sports and Play Associations in the UK’s sport and play industries.