Be careful what you ask for...

ON the face of it, a public consultation exercise on where to build a new playground sounds a straight-forward exercise.

But think again, when you introduce the dreaded factor of on-line responses!

Worthing Council tested public opinion on the Goring Greensward playground Lottery project via its Vibe magazine and the on-line facility, and what an eye-opener the electronic exercise proved to be.

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A variety of duplicate returns were detected via a reality check: 12 email addresses used were found to be false and a further five were suspicious.

Duplicate emails in the on-line responses were noted from the same named person, while personal and work email responses were similarly noted from the same named person.

And not even the Vibe's pen-and-paper method remained free from abuse.

Council officers suspected that at least three photo-copied forms came from the same person, a suspicion that was justified when the original form turned up a week later.

What will people stoop to next?

While the total number of ineligible responses was comparatively low, I can only guess at the council man/woman hours spent in uncovering the deceptions; including, for example, that one of the offending sites was a recruitment agency based in Hove.

Overall, the consultation responses showed a margin for the project, with both sides of the argument contributing some pretty heated opinions.

I must confess that I am torn between the merits of both points of view.

I love open spaces and am only too aware of the danger of nibbling away at this sort of amenity in the name of a worthy or necessary cause.

It's only just recently that Goring residents lost the fight to prevent the Sea Lane/Eirene Avenue development encroaching onto public open space.

But, as a grand-dad with two lively young grandsons who love such playgrounds, I sympathise with the local young mums desperate to find an outlet for their offspring to let off steam.

Yes, I know there's the added factor of unspeakable yobs who might wreak expensive havoc on the playground equipment, and fuel fears that the facility will foster even more anti-social behaviour in the area.

But we can't allow them to stifle all community projects for fear they will be damaged. Many children using the playground would, in any case, be there with their parents to enjoy the open space.

And it might be argued that at least the new project would keep them in one small area, leaving the rest of the Greensward to the respondent who wrote: "Put it on a council estate where children can screech at the top of their voices and not disturb decent people."

In answer to that slur on all those decent folk who don't happen to own their own homes, I've had contact with all sorts of youngsters during my journalistic years, and I've never noticed that vocal exuberance was confined to children from council estates!


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