Play areas and playgrounds reopening in Kent from Saturday July 4 but those in KCC country parks will remain closed
Families wishing to visit a playground from Saturday face a raft of new restrictions, which could include time limits, a cap on the number of adults allowed in and less equipment to help social distancing.
The exact number of play areas reopening in Kent this weekend remains unclear as councils digest stringent new guidelines - with Kent County Council amongst those saying it won't be ready.
Boris Johnson announced earlier this month that all outdoor play areas, playgrounds and gyms can reopen from Saturday, July 4. But the relaxation has come with a long list of new government guidelines issued this week applicable to play areas both inside large ticketed attractions and those run by local authorities.
The new rules suggest time limits, restrictions on the number of visitors inside at any one time, caps on visiting adults so that only one adult accompanies a child, regular hand washing, space for a queuing system to fairly manage numbers and an enhanced cleaning regime to regularly wash down 'high traffic touch points'.
The guidance also suggests play areas now limit the numbers of seats on equipment and the numbers of swings available so that both children playing and parents pushing a child on a swing or helping them across equipment can maintain social distancing.
Whilst playgrounds at big attractions such as Hever Castle, which said this week it would reopen play areas on Saturday, have staff on site to help visitors get to grips with the new rules, the same is unlikely to be true for those owned and maintained by councils.
Alongside grass cutting and ground maintenance, checking for any hazards left during lockdown and fresh safety checks on play equipment, local authorities have also been told this week that play areas will need new signs to explain each playground's new rules to visitors in the absence of staff on-site.
Kent County Council, which is responsible for play areas within its country parks including the popular large adventure playground at Shorne, says it isn't in a position to have them open for families this weekend.
A spokesman said its Country Parks team was working through the most recently issued guidance in order to establish how it could safely reopen play sites whilst following all the new safety guidelines the government has asked is in place.
Canterbury City Council, which has 49 play areas, says it too would not reopen all of them come July 4.
Spokesman Leo Whitlock said all play areas are currently being inspected to make sure they are safe, areas around them clean and final grass cutting is completed.
He added: "With 49 play areas under our control, this will take a little bit of time so not all of them will reopen straight away. Having said that, we will work with our contractor to open them as quickly as we possibly can because we appreciate children have not been able to use them for a very long time and might be really missing them.
"We will keep people up to date as much as possible via our Canterbury City Council Facebook back and @canterburycc on Twitter."
Maidstone Borough Council, which has the new adventure playground at Mote Park amongst its play areas, and Sevenoaks District Council both hope to have all play areas open by this Saturday.
Ashford council, which says it let grass grow deliberately in playgrounds to discourage use during lockdown, confirmed it too hoped to to be ready for July 4 as did Gravesham council, which is currently carrying out risk assessments on its playgrounds with the aim of also being able to open by Saturday.
Dover District Council said it was doing the same but would only open play areas when 'it is considered appropriate to do so, on or after 4 July" whilst Medway Council, which cares for around 100 play areas across its towns, said it was still working through reopening plans.
In a statement Medway council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett added: "As soon as there are confirmed details of when our facilities are ready to be safely reopened to the public, we will let residents know."
A spokesperson for Folkestone and Hythe District Council said despite the authority's best efforts to stop people coming into playgrounds during lockdown some were used and consequently damaged.
The council is in the process of carrying out site inspections and repairs, endeavouring to have the work completed by July.
She added: “We have continued to inspect our play areas during lockdown as - despite our best efforts - people have continued to defy the rules and use these. A number of the sites will need additional resources to put back swing seats and cut grass etc. and it is our intention that all play areas will be open for the 4 July.
"The government have issued further guidance which we are interpreting. The safety of park users is our highest priority and we are putting an action plan in place to ensure social distancing can be maintained.”
You can read the latest government guidelines for playgrounds and outdoor gyms by clicking here.