Brent Council leader “neutral” in row over Stonebridge Adventure Playground

Doug Lee (left) gave a impassionate plea to save the centre from closure to Cllr Butt

Doug Lee (left) gave a impassionate plea to save the centre from closure to Cllr Butt - Credit: Archant

Brent Council’s leader has refused to become embroiled in a bitter row over controversial plans to demolish a beloved playground in Stonebridge.

Boxer Audley Harrison is supporting calls to save the playground (Pic credit: Angela Blake)

Boxer Audley Harrison is supporting calls to save the playground (Pic credit: Angela Blake) - Credit: Archant

Temperatures rose as a defiant crowd of past and present users of Stonebridge Adventure Playground (SAP), in Shakespeare Road, quizzed Cllr Muhammed Butt on the proposals in his visit to the play area on Tuesday.

The Times has teamed up with the children’s centre to launch a campaign to save it from closure.

When Cllr Butt was asked whether he would support the campaign to keep the centre open, he said: “I am keeping absolutely neutral because I will have to make a decision on this further down the road.

“I cannot and will not be supporting any views, whether they are for or against.”

Under the plans, the play area will be reduced to rubble to accommodate the expansion of Stonebridge Primary School and the construction of new homes

A smaller children’s play space would also be created and the shape of the existing open space will be altered as a result of the changes.

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SAP, which is run by Brent Play Association and offers a range of free after-school and Saturday activities, was given grants totalling £187,000 to run the centre from 2012 until the end of this year but it also relies on donations from the John Lyon charitable organisation.

Stonebridge is one of the most deprived wards in the country.

Douglas Lee, who has managed the site with his wife Glynis Lee, since it was built in 1976, made an impassioned plea as to why the play area, which has served more than 30,000 children from nearby housing estates for nearly four decades, should be saved.

He said: “The centre does not need that much help from the council. It is a glowing example of how the community can help itself.

“The centre has helped other voluntary groups and is still giving to these organisations. When we entered a competition seven years ago, this playground was voted the best in the United Kingdom.

“Because of that, you should put yourself on the line for once and you should make sure that this centre is safe and funded.”

Ronald Blackman, 48, who has spent more than 30 years of his life at the playground as a user and volunteer, said: “The council should be looking to keep this place going, not tear it down. This is a place where young people can come and mix with different cultures and, more importantly, it keeps youth off the streets and away from violence.”

The cause has attracted support from Olympic boxing gold medallist and Big Brother runner-up Audley Harrison.

He famously donned a Keep Stonebridge Adventure Playground Open T-shirt minutes before his world heavyweight fight with David Haye as part of an effort which helped fight the playground’s last closure threat in 2010.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Butt, who also represents the neighbouring Tokyngton ward, said: “I totally understand the passion and everything that was said but people need to remember that no decision has been taken and nothing has been set in stone.”

Telling the Times that the proposals will not be thrown out if the centre finds funding from another source, he continued: “It is not about money, it is about meeting the needs of the community.

“We desperately need to provide more school places because we can’t be having children sitting at home because they can’t get a place.”

Related links: Video: Big Brother star Audley Harrison joins fight to save Stonebridge Adventure Playground

Video: Audley Harrison renews support for under threat playcentre in Stonebridge