The real cost of a good playground.

In a previous post I said that I think about random stuff when I run; well, not today. I had decided last week that I wanted to get some more clips of running around the Dolgellau area and decided to head up on to Rhobell Fawr after work. Such a nice day, and my first chance to run in just shorts and a vest this year. Lovely. I'll get round to editing it into a short clip soon.   So why no random stuff channeling? Well, yesterday I went to a meeting about the branding of outdoor activity in North Wales.
In a previous post I said that I think about random stuff when I run; well, not today. I had decided last week that I wanted to get some more clips of running around the Dolgellau area and decided to head up on to Rhobell Fawr after work. Such a nice day, and my first chance to run in just shorts and a vest this year. Lovely. I’ll get round to editing it into a short clip soon.   So why no random stuff channeling? Well, yesterday I went to a meeting about the branding of outdoor activity in North Wales. “Play” was a word that was suggested alongside lots of other concepts. It resonates with some people, but also has connotations that others were less comfortable with. As I headed out of Llanfachreth on my run, I was thinking about what a privilege it is to live where I do. I was thinking back to the times I came to North Wales as a 14 year old, and why I ended up where I did. From the South of England, North Wales represented so many things to me. It was a place to escape, a place with a different language and culture and a place to “play”. Whether it was in the hills, on the water, in the woods, or as part of a community the whole of North Wales offers such a beautiful location and experience. So, there I was thinking about the branding of “Play”. And then, I suppose I did my random flit. I punted into work. I’ve been involved in “access to inland water” now for over ten years, seven of which as part of my paid job. As time goes along it is becoming less about just access to water and more about access to the wider natural resources in Wales. Access to the countryside has always been a political beast in England and Wales always bouncing between two agendas; the needs of the population and the landowning lobby not wanting people to be there by right. This lack of right doesn’t confer the need for responsibility, which is something most outdoor people advocate for. Sure, 10 years ago the so called “right to roam” was introduced, but it has largely been unsuccessful in addressing the areas where the population wants to go or already goes. The areas up high and in remote places (Mountain and Moorland) were mapped, and now can be used by right. In terms of what Benny Rothman tried to achieve with the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932, it is a step in the right direction. However, there was a need for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW or Right to Roam) to be extended to other areas, the coast, the inland waters and the woodlands. In Wales, the state owned Forestry Commission land was dedicated for public access in 2005, using CRoW. The Welsh Government could do this as the land owner, and there was a hope other landowners would follow suit. They didn’t. Don’t even mention swimming, bikes, boats, paragliders, caving or horses. Walking is the limit of the Act. Access to the coast has been done in a linear manner with a footpath, but whilst you can now almost parallel the coast around Wales you can’t get to the water by right. In some places the “coast path” is not in sight of the sea!  The lowlands are a mess, non state owned woods fenced off, and inland water is just a myriad of disconnected arguments at the moment too. It wouldn’t be hard to argue that the CRoW act, 10 years on, is already out of date. Society is evolving, the health agenda is evolving, the Publics’ spending patterns are changing. The CRoW act is quite restricted in what it can do. The result-100% Adventure-50% Welcome, nice brand eh? And my brain went to numbers. The mapping exercise for CRoW was nearly £80 million pounds. No promotional or educational time in this, just process. So for that small percentage of the population who already wanted to go high in the mountains £80 million was spent. Then I was thinking about the cost per capita of “playing”. The childrens playground in Dolgellau was nearly £100,000. Based on the numbers at school. there are about 800 kids a year that could use this.  Scotland, in 2003 had watched CRoW, decided it didn’t work and addressed all places in the countryside with the Land Reform Act. Everywhere a certain distance from private dwellings is accessible for non motorised recreation as long as behaviour is responsible. This means that where the Public want to take healthy recreation, they can. The whole of the Scottish landscape is available for healthy recreation for every member of the public, resident, or tourist. The legal cost was less than £200,000. There has been television campaigns and education, which might come to about £3 million. Comparing this to a structured play area for the same cost as 30 playgrounds in rural areas for 24,000 kids, and the opportunity it creates seems a “no brainer”. Take a comparative snapshot of numbers for outdoor recreation-each year there are 150,000 visitors in Coed y Brenin, 400,000 people up Snowdon, 120,000 people at the National White Water Centre. That is just three centres, all those people re-invest in Wales, and yet an investment in promoting greater, responsible use of the whole countryside isn’t on the agenda of Government. For Wales to be a healthy nation, a successful sporting nation, don’t we need our natural resources available for “play”? Don’t we need to be able to instil those values in our children? Shouldn’t we be an active nation. I couldn’t even begin to explain the Right to Roam legislation to an 8 year old and how it fits into the Rights of Way network. But I can the Scottish Land Reform Act, the Scandinavians do it for their kids, the Kiwi’s do it at primary school. In fact most of Europe does it. Teaching kids how to play, responsibly and sustainably in the countryside isn’t impossible. in Wales, it might be a long term goal. It’s not something that will happen overnight. But in a generation, what would the impact be? What is the real cost of a proper National playground? Might there actually be a short term measurable tangible return? Sport Wales want every child hooked on sport for life. A new leisure centre costs upwards of £5million pounds. I wonder how much impact the cost of a capital investment the scale of one leisure centre development would have for Wales. If that money were put towards a piece of legislation and its promotion. Not localised benefit, National benefit. Not just sporting benefit, but business benefit, health benefit, community benefit, environmental benefit. I wonder whether, if Greece had CRoW, this aging programme of work would survive the cuts; not that they need CRoW, they have exisitng rights to their natural resources. But it does strike me that cost/benefit or some solid analysis of the real cost of natural playgrounds might just show the need for a completely different approach? It would be a bold step for Wales, but not one without precedent. Perhaps, I might watch my Grandkids and their friends grow up using the wonderful playground of Wales that our generation use so surreptitiously only once we are committed enthusiasts.