Worried parents have slammed the revamp of Hove Park playground as an “eighties throwback” and fear it could now be replicated all over the city.
Hove Park was the first playground to get a makeover under a £3 million scheme to revamp 45 playgrounds in Brighton and Hove.
It got one of the biggest allocations, with £142,000 spent on replacing all the old equipment with new castle-themed pieces, swings, slides and climbing frames.
But parents say the equipment is often too hard for smaller kids, too easy for older kids, and natural materials and surfaces have been replaced with metal and rubber.
They are also concerned that low maintenance costs have been prioritised over quality.
Now almost 200 people have signed a petition calling on the council to consult more closely with families before any new upgrades.
Rebecca Graber, a psychology lecturer whose three-year-old daughter uses the park, organised the petition.
She said playgrounds were important spaces for children to develop social skills, such as negotiation and sharing – and the right equipment is crucial to this.
She said: “There’s a danger of this being seen as a middle class mum complaining when we should be happy that the council is splashing money on all the playgrounds.
“But I think it’s really important to be able to look at the quality of the provision and whether it’s meeting the needs of the children.
“One really major change is a reduction in natural surfaces and sensory play, like grass and sandpits, which are really important for motor development.
“There’s also been a reduction in risky play structures. The slides are narrow and children can do the climbing frames really easily, so they get bored.
“Parents say there’s nothing here for my children once they get past the age of three or four, so it’s very difficult to keep everyone happy.
“It’s like an 80s throwback. I think we should complain and I think if you go down there with small children you will see within five minutes the issues with this equipment.
“If this is going to be such a wholesale change across the city, where are children going to go if all the playgrounds are basically like this?”
However, the council said that the equipment had been designed with a wide age range in mind and had followed specialist professional advice.
A council spokesman said: “The work has improved accessibility for all children, including youngsters with disabilities.
“We have been working with the Hove Park Friends Group to upgrade the playground, and they are happy with the installation.
“The work at Hove Park is part of a £3 million investment in 45 of our playgrounds over the coming year.
“This is without parallel virtually anywhere else in the country. It’s really great news for our city and our children.
“All are being designed to offer fun play opportunities to as wide a range of age groups as possible.
“Playground design is a specialist area. We will continue to follow specialist professional advice to implement the best safe educational play for children.
“Equipment has been chosen that is both fit for purpose and low maintenance.”
Meanwhile, work to upgrade one of the next playgrounds on the list, Blaker’s Park, has taken more than twice as long as expected after a surprise subterranean discovery.
The council spokesman said: “We’re sorry for the delays to the Blaker’s Park work. When we started digging we unexpectedly discovered large amounts of concrete underneath the playground.
“This has meant work has taken a lot longer than expected. But it should be finished by the end of the month.”