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London Comment: Playground

In the rolling English county of Dorset is a little place called Ferndown where matters of significance hardly ever happen. But a bitter row has split the community, severed life-long friendships, and rendered Ferndown's democratically elected town council a total laughing stock. It all began because the swings and outdoor equipment at a childrens' playground were getting a bit past their prime. One local councillor wanted to get them repaired - a few planks of wood and a lick of paint would probably have done the trick. His colleagues, however, wanted a more radical solution. Why not replace them, get some brand new play equipment? What a splendid idea. And so the matter went before the appropriate committee of the council. It met one evening, as council committees do, and got into a muddle. Somehow or other, they managed to vote to close the playground. As you might expect, there was immediate uproar. You've got it wrong, the people cried. So we have, said the red-faced councillors, and we'll put it right - never fear. To do so they engaged a playground specialist who carefully inspected the equipment and passed it as perfectly safe. The Environment Committee referred his report to the next full meeting of the council with a clear recommendation that the playground should remain open. Phew. It is one of the endearing things about local democracy that councillors are ordinary down to earth people. We do not expect international statesmanship -- just common sense. Unfortunately at the full meeting of Ferndown Town Council, common sense had sent its apologies for absence. Councillors discussed the playground, accepted a petition to keep it open, noted the report from the expert, admitted that committee members had made a mistake in the first place and then voted to
reverse the committee's decision. Well that's what they thought they'd done. In fact they didn't read the small print properly and instead voted by an overwhelming majority to close the playground for ever. By law they are now forbidden to consider the matter again for six months. But everyone in Ferndown will be considering their stupidity for a whole lot longer. This is Ed Boyle for CBS News in London .

Ed Boyle

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