Dorset News, Latest News, Lifestyle | Posted: Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 at 10:10 am | return to news

Council leaders call for travel restrictions

Both the leader of Dorset Council and the leader of the BCP Council have condemned the irresponsible behaviour of people at the county’s beaches over the recent weekend.

Cllr Spencer Flower, leader of Dorset Counci
Cllr Spencer Flower, leader of Dorset Counci

This has prompted them to call for stricter travel rules.

Cllr Spencer Flower, leader of Dorset Council said in a statement, “Over the weekend we have seen some extremely disappointing behaviour from visitors to Dorset’s beaches. I am acutely aware of how worried and upset many Dorset residents feel about the current situation, particularly when so many of them complied fully with lockdown guidance and when the Dorset Council area had one of the lowest COVID19 infection rates in the country.

“The incidents at Durdle Door on Saturday placed a huge strain on our emergency services. There have also been issues in other areas over the weekend with excessive numbers of visitors and people therefore not able to observe social distancing. We’ve seen littering, people urinating and defecating in public, people camping overnight (which is not permitted under current government COVID19 guidelines) and people having dangerous campfires and BBQs – despite extensive warnings against this from all local agencies. Council employees have been abused by the members of the public as they tried to manage the traffic.

“My overriding priority throughout the COVID19 outbreak has been the safety and wellbeing of Dorset residents and all decision making has been based on this. We at Dorset Council have done everything we can within the limited powers we have to prepare for and respond to the situation. For several weeks now we’ve been sending out a strong message that potential visitors should ‘think twice’ about coming to Dorset. This ‘Think Twice’ message has been used widely across the country. We’ve managed the opening of car parks and public toilets very carefully in order to cope with demand and manage safety issues, without inadvertently giving out a signal that Dorset is ‘open for business’.

“However, since the government announced on Sunday 10 May that lockdown was to be gradually eased and that people can ‘travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance’, both we and Dorset Police have had very limited powers of enforcement. “For example, since the recent guidance came into effect, the Police are no longer been able to challenge road users as to whether their journeys are essential.

All public services are very stretched due to weeks of responding to the COVID19 outbreak and other major incidents such as the wildfire at Wareham Forest.”

Cllr Flower has therefore written to the Prime Minister and to all Dorset MPs on this issue.

He added, “My plea to the government is to review the unrestricted travel guidelines currently in place and require people instead to ‘stay local’. The current guidelines have a disproportionately negative effect on areas like ours which are popular with visitors but do not have the infrastructure to cope right now. I am worried that we will see a second wave of infection here in Dorset as a result of the high number of visitors to the area over recent days.”

The Leader of BCP Council, Cllr Vikki Slade, has formally written to the area’s MPs and the Chief Constable of Dorset Police calling for stricter travel rules.

In her letter, Councillor Slade wrote, “You will have seen that as councils we have done everything we can to prepare for visitors to our areas by opening car parks so people can park safely, by providing toilets so people can stay hygienic, by asking for increased patrols in public places including our parks and beaches.

“We are working hard to create social distancing plans for town centres so local people can shop, and businesses can begin to open and our economy begin to recover and we have supported  our care homes and schools to prepare for the next stage of the roadmap.

“Three weeks ago, following the Prime Minister’s announcement that people could travel wherever they liked as long as they did not stay out overnight, we discussed the possibility of limiting travel distance.  We were told clearly that this was not possible.  We shared our concerns about how we could manage an influx of visitors and it became obvious that as local authorities we had few powers, beyond closing some car parks but that we could not remove people from the area.

“We saw the most awful scenes in Durdle Door with the arrival of two helicopters to deal with the stupidity of people jumping from the top of cliffs, cheered and clapped by thousands of beachgoers. We saw the kettling of people to give space to the helicopters and the closely packed paths as people were told to leave.  In Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole we have seen crowds on our beaches, in large groups clearly not from the same household, we have had council officers spat at, abused and intimidated as they go about their work and I am asking you all to go back to Ministers in Westminster and ask them to put a travel restriction on England, as they have done in Wales and Scotland.

“In those devolved nations you can only travel five miles from home for reasons other than work or risk fines, and I am asking that a similar policy is brought in for England with immediate effect.  My suggestion is that rather than a mileage limit, the restriction is on the first part of the postcode, for us it would be BH or DT.  This would enable people to travel to local parks, beaches and beauty spots, to get to shops, markets and schools or to travel to work.  It would not be foolproof, but there would be some tolerance but it would enable us to do what we intended to do – to enable the 800,000 residents of Dorset to enjoy Dorset.”

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