The scrapping of funding promised for a children’s splash pad has led to a row between Chippenham town councillors.
Parents, childminders and councillors say Chippenham’s youngsters are now in danger of having neither the water play feature in John Coles Park nor a skatepark - if Monkton Park residents decide to challenge planners.
About 50 people turned out in John Coles Park to protest against the reallocated funding, with kids pledging their own pocket money to help pay for the water jet play feature.
Coun Melody Thompson, herself a mother-of-three, said: “I feel like they’ve held the candy out to the baby and then snatched it away.”
But many others believe in this time of austerity the funding could be better spent elsewhere.
Last week Coun Pete Hutton proposed taking the £40,000 ringfenced last summer for the splash pad and instead allocating it for the provision of “improvements to infrastructure, community safety and to support local business and community projects”.
The amendment was supported by 12 councillors to seven.
Coun Hutton said: “It had overwhelming support. I don’t believe anybody thinks that’s a sensible way of spending taxpayers’ money at the moment.
“It’s not just the £80,000 start-up cost, it would be between £7,000 and £14,000 a year for water and electric bills.
“It is now up to the councillors to come up with projects which they feel are important for the community. It doesn’t have to be spent on one thing.”
He said suggestions made had included grit bins and sandbags.
Town councillor Mary Fallon said she was “choked” by the decision and described the suggested distribution of money as “woolly”.
Coun Thompson said she too believed the “vagueness” risked the money being wasted.
She said: “We’ve now got this £40,000 hole in the budget and nobody knows what it’s for. Rather than us being united on one thing we face the possibility of it being frittered away by splitting it into lots of different bits to please everyone.
“I don’t like being negative but I do feel that somebody has to stand up for the kids who don’t have a vote.”
But Coun Hutton said: “It may well go on several projects but I don’t see that as a bad thing, for a variety of projects for different members of the community.”
Town councillor Bill Douglas said a splash pad would benefit generations other than children.
“Everyone will be going up there to see the joy of children having fun,” he said.
“We should support the town’s people and once we’ve looked after them then we’ll support the businesses.
“Monkton residents may, as before, mount a legal challenge to the skatepark application and if this is successful, our children could end up with no skatepark and no splash pad.
“The poor families who don’t have the money to take their children to other entertainment, they’ve got nothing.”
He said he believed the potential impact had not been understood by councillors. According to Wiltshire Council, there are 591 single parents receiving benefits in Chippenham, and 2,800 children of primary school age.
Pauline Monaghan, chief executive of the Rise Trust which manages three children’s centres in Chippenham, said: “We are extremely concerned that elected members have chosen to divert money into small businesses when we have children so desperate for play facilities.
“It will have a large impact. There are a lot of children who never leave the town, Chippenham is the limit of their world because parents can’t afford to have cars or pay for public transport.
“Many are very disadvantaged and have very few opportunities to play in ways in which really stimulate. A splash pad is where the funding should go.”
Council leader David Powell, who seconded Coun Hutton’s proposal, said a splash pad had not been ruled out for the future but the council would not be able to pay for all of it.
He said: “In common with most of the council’s projects, significant external funding would be needed to supplement the money received from the town’s taxpayers.
“We do also have to be realistic that in current circumstances there are likely to be calls from other sections of our community for town council support and we need to be able to react to these.”