Edinburgh to close streets to allow children to play

10.34 | 1 June 2018 | | 18 comments

City of Edinburgh Council has approved an initiative that allows residents to temporarily close their roads to enable children to play safely outside.

‘Playing Out’ was trialled between April and August 2017, with 54 sessions taking place across 30 streets around the Scottish capital.

During the pilot, the council covered all costs including assessing and approving road closures and providing, delivering, and collecting road closure equipment.

Earlier this month, the council’s transport and environment committee agreed to implement Playing Out as council policy.

However, it says that further work is required to improve the guidelines and that a review will take place every three years to assess the cost of implementing Playing Out and its alignment with wider council priorities.

A consultation exercise carried out from December 2017 to January 2018 to evaluate the Playing Out pilot suggested there is ‘widespread support for the scheme’.

90% of respondents felt the sessions had given children a safe and beneficial opportunity to play, while 83% felt the session resulted in children making new friends.

88% said the initiative had increased the children’s sense of belonging in the community and 90% said it increased community connections between different generations.

Cllr Lesley Macinnes, Edinburgh’s transport and environment convener, said: “Our Edinburgh Playing Out pilot scheme saw hundreds of children, parents and neighbours reclaiming their streets for play, conversation and social interaction.

“Feedback from the public consultation was enormously positive and showed huge support for rolling this out as council policy.

“By making our streets places to spend quality time with friends and neighbours, we’re helping build strong community spirit, fostering connections between different generations and enabling children to flourish through free and active play.”

Lucy Richardson, representing Edinburgh Playing Out, said: “Edinburgh Playing Out, a group of parents and grandparents promoting children’s play, are delighted City of Edinburgh Council is planning to make ‘Edinburgh Play Streets’ council policy.

“We look forward to working together to promote temporary street closures allowing children to play safely and communities to get together.”


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    Interesting to read the different views and comments here. For us at Playing Out, the comment ‘new problems need new solutions’ gets it right.. Please see our website for LOTS of information about why the freedom to play out close to home (not just in parks) is so important for children. Our idea, which enables this again, is not an end answer (children need the freedom to play out every day) but a temporary solution to try and bring some of that freedom back and put it back on the agenda for children.

    Specifically to the comments, and despite what one might think, children are very able to understand different rules for different contexts (like ‘shoes off at grandma’s house and not at home) from very young. The high viz jackets, road closed signs and parents and children all out on the street are big enough cues that this is not a normal day. In fact, the sessions provide a great chance to talk about road safety a lot and make the distinction. Feedback from residents and our evaluation by Bristol University endorse this. Do look at our pages on Possible Concerns and FAQ’s for more helpful info.

    So far, over 50 local authorities have adopted supportive street play policies and over 650 street communities around the UK have held regular playing out sessions, with tens of thousands of adults and children taking part. All of these sessions are parent led – as is Playing Out: a network of parents wanting a better deal for children as they grow up and reclaiming a bit of the public space outside their own front doors to get it. Streets were once for everyone. It’s only over time as cars have increased that people have been pushed to the side. It’s time for change on this, because the cost to children is huge.

    Our work feeds into road safety work and safer streets for children. Please do get in touch if you are interested in any of it!

    http://www.playingout.net and also see this wonderful lovely film made by Playing Out and children in Bristol:https://vimeo.com/210430100

    Apologies if this is a bit long!

    Ingrid, Bristol
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Not sure if I will be allowed yet another comment Nick, but yes, when I was a child there were indeed less vehicles around and yet we still did not play in the road – we went to the park. If we attempted to play football or anything rowdy in the road, our parents and neighbours would have stopped us… things were different in those days as you say. The point people seem to be missing is that a closed road is not the only place where people, if they so wish, can play and be active.

    I think this is councils wanting to be seen to be ‘doing something’, but haven’t thought it through nor, it would seem, have they consulted their lawyers.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

    I think, Hugh, that you have indeed answered my question.
    Conditions change and it may be that when you were a child there were significantly fewer vehicles moving about or parked on the terraced streets? Similarly the issue of “stranger danger” may not have affected a child’s freedom as much?
    Unfortunately in road safety (and in many other areas of life) there is a tendency for some people to compare their own experiences to what they observe happening to others and to say what worked for themselves should/must work for others. If that was the case then casualty/obesity rates would be equal for all demographic groupings and they are clearly not. It would, in my opinion, benefit all of the population if such rates could be reduced and equalized.

    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (1) | Disagree (3)

    I would rather trust the judgement of the Kerbcraft people who are passionate about road safety education and have personally taught literally thousands of children. They think that organising a “play in the road” day is completely bonkers and is unhelpful as it contracts the message they deliver 5 days a week. And no it is not a job protection attitude, it is just people on the front line of road safety standing up for common sense.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (10) | Disagree (1)

    In the interest of keeping it simple, Rod tells us young children have difficulty in judging traffic speeds. How well will they appreciate the street being closed today is safe but not safe tomorrow when it isn’t. Or how about their appreciation of this street is safe today but around the corner the street isn’t. Never been so glad to have moved away from Edinburgh. Old problems demand innovative solutions but this one doesn’t convince me.

    Ron Paterson, Horsham
    Agree (10) | Disagree (2)

    On the other hand Nick, those adults and children who are not obese did not achieve this by getting their road closed so they could ‘play out’ did they? Perhaps they ate less and/or healthier and/or walked or cycled along the conveniently placed footways and carriageways typically to be found outside most homes – even terraced streets. I grew up in a terraced street in Liverpool and in our free time we walked or rode to the park unaccompanied and at school we played non-stop in the playground (so called because it’s an area where children can play) and sometimes we even ran up and down the footways. At no time did our parents wish our roads could be closed so we could do it more.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

    New problems require new solutions. If childhood (and us adults too) obesity is growing and is causing great problems now and in the future then perhaps we need to encourage and enable greater levels of activity. Some communities do not have access to facilities that others take for granted. Perhaps the communities in the terraced property areas of the older towns do not find it as easy to let their children play out when they have no gardens? The limited public spaces may be too far to let their children go to unaccompanied whereas some people have the facility to let their children play in their enclosed garden whilst they get on with other tasks? With that and the design of newer – and probably more expensive housing estates – resulting in lower rates of casualties for the less deprived sections of the population then perhaps we could just allow ourselves to change our outlook to try and achieve more equality in the chances of staying alive?
    Or are we stuck in an “I’m alright Jack, it is up to the other’s to improve their own lot” mentality?

    Nick Hughes, Preston
    Agree (6) | Disagree (5)

    I suspect you too would not be happy with your road being given over to those activities you’ve listed either Rod, anymore than I would – how about your friendly neighbourhood heavy metal band taking advantage of the road closure to rehearse in the road as well?

    The ‘reality of the debate’ is that a lot of people, including me, are sensitive to noise and nuisance and we, not unreasonably, wish to enjoy peace and quiet when in our homes and gardens – whether it’s from vehicular traffic going too fast (the main reason I’ve always supported your campaign for slower speeds) or noisy play. If I had inadvertently bought a house next to a motor racing circuit, football ground, metal foundry or school, where noise may be reasonably expected, that’s my fault and I couldn’t complain, but when blinkered councils decide to appease residents who rather selfishly want to disrupt their own neighbourhood to allow their children to play noisily or in the road, or for adults to eat and drink in the road(??) when they have patios and gardens, then yes, I would complain.

    The good news is, I checked my own Council’s position and they have a ‘Play strategy’ which at first made my heart sink but reading further, it is a ‘plan’ to encourage more use of open spaces, play areas etc. by investing and improving facilities, better access etc…. what a novel idea.

    Finally, playing football or other ball games in a closed road is still going to be illegal. Unfortunately the local police won’t know that either and will simply cite the Council’s TRO which does NOT override the national law of the land.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (5) | Disagree (9)


    Can I bring back some reality to this debate. Roads are already quite legally closed for street parties (adults playing), parades (adults demonstrating their faith, cause, etc), food festivals (adults eating and drinking), fairs (fun fair rides so people can enjoy playing). To name a few.

    Can you clarify whether you wish to ban all of these or is it simply where it is exclusively “children” having fun on a street that has been temporarily closed with the approval of the local council that you wish to ban?

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (11) | Disagree (5)

    ‘Once a highway, always a highway’ Rod. In these instances, the roads continue to be highways, but with a temporary restriction for a class of user, so I’m afraid it’s not perfectly legal at all. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the local authorities just haven’t bothered checking this point.

    Why might you think that ‘playing’ on a hard-paved road with hazards like gullies, grids, manhole covers, lighting columns etc. is somehow better than playing in parks, private gardens, play areas, playgrounds etc. which are, more or less, freely available for use and which won’t require play to be stopped whilst a motor vehicle is escorted through?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (9) | Disagree (15)


    I think you will find that the road is officially closed in accordance with local traffic authority rules. Hence it is perfectly legal. And I understand that parents act as marshals to allow anyone who needs to drive through under supervision.

    What highways were originally intended for is rather debatable.


    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (15) | Disagree (9)

    M: Those things annoy me as well.

    Rod: In that case, the English & Welsh Councils seem to be endorsing an illegal and anti-social activity on the highway. If it happened in my road, I’d be on to the police straight away – it would be interesting to see how they dealt with it.

    Residents and their visitors are entitled to use the highway to reach their properties and should not be unreasonably prevented from doing so because the said highway has been given over for a purpose it was never meant for. I’d still like to know why the Councils don’t instead, encourage the children and their parents to use designated play areas, parks and gardens. Anyone know? Too easy? Too obvious?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (9) | Disagree (13)


    It is already happening in England and Wales. See http://playingout.net/near-you/


    What children really have difficulty with is assessing the speed of cars above 20mph. Research shows that below secondary school age they cannot be relied upon to protect themselves on the roads with vehicle speeds at 25mph and above. However, doubt that any would have problems understanding that when there is a playing out day that on that day the roads are safe whilst on others they are not.

    Those public spaces between houses are certainly safe places. Its only the drivers and motor vehicles which create the danger.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (7) | Disagree (16)

    Hugh where is your indignation when it comes to cyclists riding on pavements and pedestrian prescincts or the wrong way down one way streets against the flow of traffic and cycling past no entry signs etc.

    If there is a rule of law then it should be all encompassing and inclusive for everyone and everything that could be considered dangerous or unlawful.

    Agree (2) | Disagree (4)

    This wouldn’t be possible in England & Wales as it is an offence to play games on the highway to the annoyance of road users, which it invariably would be. I don’t know about Scotland – possibly it is as well and Edinburgh Council just didn’t check. Local Councils can’t be seen to be endorsing – through local legislation – an activity which is already illegal under national legislation. One other question: is there a reason why the children in the streets concerned can’t use areas set aside for playing away from the highways?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (7) | Disagree (15)

    The Kerbcraft child pedestrian training scheme originated in Drumchapel in Scotland and has been rolled out in various forms across the UK for around 15 years to tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of children. It teaches younger age primary school children three skills to treat road with respect and stay safe by 1) Choosing safe places to cross the road. 2) Crossing safely at parked cars. 3) Crossing safely near junctions.

    I’m not sure that a 6 or 7 year old child will understand that there are some days when they should obey this training but on other days it is fine to play in the road.

    Keep the message simple:
    Roads are not safe places to play.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (20) | Disagree (13)

    I fully applaud this. No-one is banning people from using the streets, merely doing so with their motor vehicles.

    If anyone is concerned about “playing” on the streets then may I suggest they start with the adults who use the roads and streets with their vehicles as leisure playgrounds.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (12) | Disagree (15)

    Groan. If my Council did this, I’d move. Highways are for travelling on, not playing – we have gardens, parks and open spaces for that, not to mention ‘play areas’… the clue’s in the name.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (13) | Disagree (19)

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