Councils have been accused of enforcing tighter lockdown measures by closing children’s playgrounds and beauty spot car parks.
Dozens of playgrounds have been shut and sealed off around the country by council leaders worried about families gathering together and ignoring social distancing measures.
The move comes despite the Government ruling that play areas, which were shut during the first lockdown last year, could stay open this time round.
It raises fears that children are being deprived of places to play safely outdoors at a time when lockdown measures are severely restricting the amount of time parents can take them outside.
Playgrounds have been closed in Essex, Hampshire, Sussex and Hertfordshire after local authorities decided to act amid “ongoing concerns” over high Covid infection rates in their areas.
Colchester Borough Council decided to shut a large playground in the town centre after officials recorded 110 people using the play equipment at one time.
The move came just days after the council also closed the town's two skateparks due to fears that social distancing guidelines were not being followed.
Martin Goss, the council’s portfolio holder for waste, environment and transportation, said: “With the nation being asked to stay at home and the rate of the virus continuing to increase in Colchester, we have made the difficult but right decision to close the play area in Upper Castle Park.
“While many residents are following the government’s advice, sadly there are a few who are putting lives at risk and not adhering to social distancing and gathering rules, despite the educational steps taken by Essex Police and council officers."
Stevenage Borough Council has also shut several playgrounds, while Mid Sussex District Council has closed half its 123 playgrounds while carrying out weekly sanitising of those left open.
Brighton and Hove City Council has issued warnings that it may close playgrounds if residents continue to gather there in large numbers, urging people to use them only for short spells.
Council leader Phélim MacCafferty (Green Party) said: “We really don’t want to close our playgrounds, but our concern is that as the new strain of the pandemic is spreading at a worrying speed, they’re becoming unsafe.
“This is because too many people of all ages are using them to congregate and socialise."
The closures have left parents divided, with some criticising the decision while and others questioning why not all playgrounds have been closed, as they were last Spring.
Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, a mother of two from Altrincham, Greater Manchester, told The Telegraph: “I’ve got two tiny children, a tiny house, no real garden, and the only way we can survive lockdown is going to the swings each day.
"I hope the council follows the science on this: there’s no real evidence that covid spreads outdoors, no real evidence it spreads via surfaces, and children desperately need the play and exercise.
“This past year has really demonstrated how essential outdoor spaces are - we’ve been reliant on them now everything else we used to use to entertain our kids has shut.”
Chrissie Valentine, from London, added: “When they [playgrounds] closed in the first lockdown it had a profound impact on me.”
Children’s welfare charities, including Playing Out, have written an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to provide clearer guidance allowing children to play outdoors during the lockdown.
Alice Ferguson, co-director of Playing Out, said it had raised concerns after receiving reports of police ordering families with children to leave playgrounds and go home, simply for playing outside.
She said: “Councils need to find a way to keep their playgrounds open. There’s a lack of consideration about what children need during this pandemic and it’s important for their physical and mental health for them to get out and play.”
But one London parent, Tracy Norris, wrote on Twitter about her concerns over families gathering in large numbers at playgrounds, stating: “So many people in my local playground when I went past earlier. No masks, no distancing. I understand the need for children to get out and play but these were shut in the 1st lockdown last year.”
Some councils have also begun to shut car parks at local beauty spots in a bid to deter people from gathering.
North Norfolk District Council last week closed its Horsey Estate car park last week to deter people gathering to watch seals, after several people in the area were issued lockdown fines.
Council leader Sarah Bütikofer warned that it may become necessary to close more of the area’s 25 plus car parks to discourage people from traveling to the district.
Heybridge Basin Parish Council, near Maldon, in Essex, has closed a car park at the Daisy Meadow beauty spot after it drew up to 150 cars from across the country.