Why Britain's children have a bad case of outdoor play phobia

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Britain's streets are becoming no-go areas for increasing numbers of young children with many too scared to play outside, according to research.

Britain's streets are becoming no-go areas for increasing numbers of young children with many too scared to play outside, according to research.

Ten- and 11-year-olds say that their worries about traffic, trains, terrorism and even being kidnapped are keeping them trapped indoors.

They want better public transport, greater provision for cyclists and pedestrians, more green space and less litter.

These are the findings of a report to be published this week by the influential think-tank Demos, which concludes that too much emphasis has been placed on child poverty by the Government and not enough on creating pleasant surroundings for children.

Demos is now calling on the Government to ensure that all children have access to green space within 250 metres of their homes by 2020, that children have weekly school safaris and that more green schools are built to ensure children realise the importance of the environment.

The report, co-authored by the Green Alliance, an environmental charity, and backed by Barnardos and English Nature, is based on extensive interviews carried out at three schools in London, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire, and a play scheme in Bath.

The findings were similar, regardless of whether the children attended an inner-city or rural school - although fears of a terrorist attack were more common among children living in London.

In many cases, the children blamed teenagers for the deterioration of their local environment through vandalism or anti-social behaviour.

Researcher Gillian Thomas said children's fears about their environment were threatening their development. She said: "The street is no longer seen as a safe place by children because of traffic and worries about strangers. You think kids live in a different world and wouldn't think about terrorism, but they do think about this stuff," she said, adding: "There is a lot of talk about consulting children but this doesn't seem to happen."

Guy Thompson, director of the Green Alliance, said the physical and mental development of children was under threat as youngsters become increasingly detached from their natural environments.

Mr Thompson said: "Kids sit down and watch the TV and pick up on parents' concerns about their safety. The Government is waking up to the link between environmental quality and public health but in their haste to tackle child poverty we are missing the wider picture."

The children's worries come amid increasing concerns over the lack of play areas and a rise in obesity. The number of primary school children walking to school or playing unsupervised fell from 62 per cent to 54 per cent through the 1990s.

The number of playing fields sold for development has risen. National Playing Fields Association figures show that more than 800 applications to build on playing fields were approved last year.