ARSONISTS have torched a newly-built playground before it has even opened.

Angry councillors have attacked the “idiots” who damaged the equipment – and also hit out at those who decided it should be made out of wood in the first place.

Police are investigating the arson at High Woods Country Park at about 7am on Sunday.

The £55,000 play area only had metal barriers around it removed last week and was still taped off before the planned grand opening this Saturday.

It was funded through a £45,000 Government grant and £10,000 from Colchester Council, but local taxpayers will be forced to pay for all the repairs as it has been passed into local authority control.

Martin Goss, councillor for Mile End, said: “It was supposed to be open at the weekend, but some idiots have decided to burn it down.

“I was told on Sunday it had been very badly damaged. It is very frustrating for residents.”

Gerard Oxford, councillor for High Woods, added his voice to those criticising the actions of the mindless minority, but also blamed the short-sighted authorities for allowing wood to be used against police advice.

He said: “The police expressed concerns prior to the scheme about the use of wood, because it could be used as a bonfire.

“We predicted this in advance and now it has come to pass before it has even opened.”

Mr Oxford is angry the council did not have the final say on what material was going to be used, which he claimed was decided by the Government funding scheme, yet the council has to pay for the repairs.

“I believe one of the reasons wood was chosen was the external funding. Only last week I said I hoped we would be wrong about the risk, but we have been proven right already.

“It is very sad for the children from High Woods, Mile End and beyond.

“One of the main supports has almost burnt through, so there is a health and safety risk. It has been built over the last few months, the barriers came down a few days ago and it was just taped up – and now it has gone up in flames.”

The council hopes to be able to get it repaired in time for Saturday, but is waiting to find out the full cost and consequences of the arson attack.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “The police are investigating a deliberate fire. Officers are liaising locally with the park officers.”

Anyone with information can call Essex Police on 0300 3334444.