Residents of the Manor Farm estate, in the shadow of Southmead Hospital’s Brunel Building, are protesting an order from Bristol City Council that their children’s play park be demolished.
The Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) was built less than ten years ago, in a park that has been used by young people since at least the 1960s, when local resident David Cooper was growing up there. “It’s a safe haven for kids to play in,” he says.
It is widely used by the local community and Horfield CofE Primary School, as a place for young people to play football, basketball and other games.
Manor Farm is the largest estate in Bristol without a community centre, and many see the area around the MUGA as their focal point and social space.
“It’s a lovely place to gather and have picnics, and my children have had birthday parties there,” local resident Natalia Lyes says. She’s lived in the area since 2005 and has two children, aged seven and four. “My son even learned to ride a bicycle for the first time at the MUGA. It’s a big part of the community.”
The first residents heard of the plan to completely demolish the MUGA, at an estimated cost of £5,000 to £10,000, was a letter on the fence of the nearby children’s play area. It warned residents that demolition would begin on February 20, during half-term, when the park was likely to be busier than ever. No chance to appeal the decision was offered by Bristol City Council.
“We’re just shocked that we haven’t been consulted,” Natalia adds. “We’ve not had the chance to defend the place or find a solution. For someone to come and do this to us is heartbreaking.”
The decision to demolish the MUGA comes after a court case between a single local resident and Bristol City Council over noise and anti-social behaviour in the area, particularly at night. This anonymous claimant comes from the very same community that is now trying to save the MUGA.
“Bristol City Council lost the case and now has a legal obligation to reduce noise,” councillor Claire Hiscott explains.
“There has been no consultation with the local community, nor with the councillors. Plans were put forward to redesign the space a year ago, and were dropped by Bristol City Council.
“It was a source of frustration for us, as we could see a court case looming. It didn’t need to go this far, and the money spent on the court case could have been used to redesign the area for the young people.”
For the residents of Manor Farm, taking away the MUGA means taking away an important part of their only local park and green space.
After the demolition takes place, the area will be turfed over. Its future could now be uncertain, with some in the community wondering out loud if the space will be developed for housing at a later date.
“I’m disappointed that children and families are losing out, that’s the saddest thing,” Hiscott says, echoing the sentiment of the community, who recently held a candle-lit vigil at the MUGA to protest the loss of their space. Organised through the local area’s Facebook page, many families with young children turned out on a freezing evening to participate in the demonstration of community spirit.
“The council are cowards,” Natalia says of the secretive nature of the decision. “They are supposed to be looking after our children – they are the future. But they’re not talking to anyone or looking for a solution, it’s just going to be ripped out. It’s going to leave a big hole in our everyday lives.”
A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “We have looked at a number of options to comply with the court order, but due to the serious risk of further legal action against the Council if the MUGA was not removed, and the substantial legal costs associated with this, we have taken the difficult decision to remove the MUGA.”
Hiscott says that some money is available to be spent on development in the area, which could fund more equipment in the playground, or new facilities in the existing space.
But for now, this will not patch the physical hole left in the Manor Farm estate once the demolition takes place, and an even larger hole that this row has created amongst the community.
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