One of Wellingborough’s most popular family attractions is to remain closed after the council confirmed they do not have enough qualified staff to run it.
Visiting the Splash Park on the Embankment next to the River Nene is one of the area’s most-loved free pastimes.
With the summer drawing near and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee bank holidays looming, locals began asking when the Splash Park will reopen.
But when it emerged that the park may remain closed, people on social media started to voice their anger.
One said: “That water park is the only day out a lot of kids get in this area. It’s like a holiday for them.”
Another added: “I’m so disappointed. We go there regularly as soon as it starts getting warm, especially when we can’t afford to go away.”
Cllr Martin Griffiths, former Wellingborough Council leader who now sits as an independent, has been looking into the issue for residents and has started a petition to get the park reopened.
He told this newspaper: “The Splash Park has been a popular attraction for many years and the former borough council improved the facilities using developer contributions to give hundreds of families, and thousands of kids, a wonderful free summer experience.
"With money tight for many families, this is absolute madness.
"Quite frankly, I am appalled that the new council can not get this facility staffed and reopened this summer.
"Wellingborough appears to be the poor relation of the new unitary authority just one year in.”
The Splash Park, which draws thousands of families every year to cool off in warmer temperatures, is run by the new North Northamptonshire Council.
This newspaper asked NNC if there were any plans to reopen the park at any point during the summer.
Executive Member for Highways, Travel and Assets, Councillor Graham Lawman said: “We are sorry that we have been unable to open our very popular Wellingborough Splash Park so far.
“In order to operate the park safely for our young people, it is necessary to have a full complement of trained safeguarding staff available. As we don’t have this at present, we have regrettably taken the decision to keep the park closed.
"We are currently working to engage and train staff and enable us to open the Splash Park as soon as possible as we know how well used and enjoyed by families it is.
“We apologise for any disappointment and we will communicate the reopening once we have an exact date.”
Former councillor and mayor Jo Beirne said: “In the scheme of local authority spending the Splash Park running costs are small.
“At a time when all of our local authority services seem to be failing, our young families in the former borough of Wellingborough deserve all the help and support they can get. Many currently cannot afford food or heating let alone a holiday or a day out.
"What they have been able to have in the last few years, since the former Borough Council of Wellingborough invested in the Embankment area, is the splash facility there.
"A free area for children and families to play, cool down, meet friends and make memories without having to spend a penny.
“This is a service that proves for all, young, old, different cultures, different backgrounds, no means testing, form filling, waiting or humiliation. You walk up, play and laugh.
“This is all many children and their carers, parents, grandparents and friends have for fun in the water when it’s hot. How many readers remember the regattas that used to be held at the river in the 70’s, the boat races, the little steam train?
"We have those memories. What are our children and grandchildren going to be able to remember from their summer this year?
“We must get the splash facility opened for the children to make memories.
"Does North Northants Unitary Authority not care about the disadvantaged children in Wellingborough, can they really not find the money from anywhere? Shame on them.”
The park was previously owned by the Borough Council of Welllingborough which was merged with other authorities to form NNC during the local government reorganisation in April 2021.
Arms-length company Wellingborough Norse was contracted by BCW to run the park as well as other council services including waste, recycling, street-cleaning, and grounds maintenance services.
But last month, NNC announced that it would bring the running of these services back in-house and that Norse’s contract would come to an end. Senior council members promised a seamless transition.
Some staff were transferred directly over, but others, including those who were qualified and trained to run the splash park, apparently weren’t.
At the time, Cllr Lawman said: “Residents will not see any immediate change on a day-to-day basis; it will be business as usual for our teams and our services will continue to operate as they always have.
"This move does, however, have several advantages for the authority and users, including improved service provision and the ability to further raise standards for residents.”
And NNC leader Cllr Jason Smithers said: “This move.. allows us greater control to directly manage services, including employees and assets, whilst investing in services and equipment. Although residents won’t see any difference, there will be long-term benefits for us all.”
In previous years, the facility has been open full time during the school holidays and at weekends in the warmer months. Back in 2018 during a particularly hot early July spell, the park was opened seven days a week in response to requests from residents.