Cllr Cillian Murphy; Cllr Ian Lynch; Cllr Joe Garrihy
“In light of the inability for new community operated playgrounds, and those whose policies may have lapsed, to get insurance cover, and the increasing burden of individual insurance costs on existing community operated playgrounds we call for Clare County Council to take all those playgrounds in under the councils policy.”
Behind this motion is the situation where, firstly, it has become impossible for a community group to get an insurance quote for any new community playgrounds, and secondly, any of the existing playgrounds, whose policies have lapsed for any reason, will not be able to get insured afterwards. So, in effect, we now have a two-tier group of communities, those who have playgrounds and those who don’t and may never have. This is grossly unfair, and in my view, and I would hope everyone else’s, an utterly risible situation for us as a local authority, one purporting to be a national leader in rural development, to facilitate into the future. I have said on numerous times, this council is progressive and innovative, and I refuse to believe that it’s beyond our wit to enable the development of new community organised playgrounds in the future through supporting them in their need to access insurance. Although, unlike in many other areas, we will not be leaders in this, my own limited research has shown, Kerry, Galway, Louth, Wicklow, Limerick and Tipperary all cover the insurance for their community playgrounds, so the mechanism to do it does exist within IPB.
The response to this motion came from our Rural Development Directorate, whose function is the regeneration and repopulation of rural Clare by “supporting the growth of towns and villages in County Clare and working in partnership with community groups and other key stakeholders”.
As of this morning I personally know two of those community groups who will not be able to draw down approx. €250k of EU funds, already allocated to them, to develop playgrounds in their villages due to their inability to get an insurance quote. I also know of another community that has spent €275k, is ready to open the doors and cannot do so, because between starting and finishing their project the playground insurers have all left the marketplace.
These are all community groups who have expended significant amounts of their own time and energy sourcing this public money themselves, who have committed significant private match funding from within their own resources, to deliver some of the exact infrastructure needed to ensure we as a local authority can deliver on our stated goal of ‘supporting the growth of towns and villages in Clare’. For any community to be sustainable it requires young families to live in them; so by any definition, it stands to reason that a playground within the community is a fundamental requirement to its sustainability.
Our Rural Dev Strategy has 4 key focus areas, of which this is one, “increasing the quality of the physical, built, social and cultural environment of rural areas so that they are more attractive places in which to live both now and in the future.” It also noted that “the diminishing attractiveness of rural areas, especially for young families as a result of the contraction and/or withdrawal of private and public investment” along with “inadequate and poorly maintained physical and service infrastructure” were key to the underlying negative dynamics of rural decline. We are expending huge resources to address this rural decline, and rightly so; indeed in the response I note the requirement for extra staffing resources for our ‘rural team’ to apply for grant schemes, and this is weighed against the cost of providing insurance cover. But, if we fail to support the development of these types of project, playgrounds, which go to the core of sustainable community, “attractiveness to live in” and “adequate physical infrastructure”, we are in danger of ending up with a really well-staffed directorate but no communities for them to work with.
I agree with the statement within the response that insurance is a national issue, however, that should in no way preclude us from stepping in at a local level and using our resources to provide a buffer for communities, ensuring this national issue does not negatively impact on the capacity of our local communities to deliver safe, enclosed, active spaces that encourage multi generational connection, something that has become extremely valuable and will become even more important as the COVID pandemic continues.
I would ask for support from my colleagues for a commitment from this council that as a priority we meet with these three communities and with our insurers, to work out how these developments can go ahead, and provide certainty to other communities that they may also have playgrounds in the future