Lockdown Easing And Warm Weather A 'Perfect Storm' For Tourist Destinations, Officials Say

As a summer of "staycations" looms there are fears coastal resorts could become overwhelmed, with people already "camping" at roadsides.

Officials have warned that the government’s easing of lockdown coupled with scorching temperatures could create a “perfect storm” and overwhelm England’s busiest seaside resorts.

Following the declaration of a major incident in Bournemouth on Thursday – with thousands descending on the beach on the hottest day of the year – some council chiefs are now urging the government to do more to discourage tourists from travelling to overcrowded destinations.

The government on Friday said the onus was on local authorities to deal with the huge crowds visiting their areas.

But that is not much use to those living and working in some of the busiest spots that have reported huge issues with litter, human waste and people camping in farmers’ fields or at the side of the road while the usual tourism infrastructure remains locked down.

With sweeping changes to the lockdown restrictions planned for July 4, including the reopening of pubs, there are fears popular seaside resorts, which are at capacity anyway during regular summers, will not be able to cope with people heading away for “staycations”.

Repeats of the gridlocked roads seen in Bournemouth on Thursday, and more people having to sleep outside, are real possibilities.

Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth.
Crowds gather on the beach in Bournemouth.

Conservative Laura Miller, Dorset Council member for West Purbeck and portfolio holder for adult social care and health, described “frustration” across the local authority as a result of unclear messaging from the government, but added that she was broadly in support of policies allowing people to drive any distance in England to exercise or visit outdoor areas “with mitigation”.

She described chaotic scenes across the week as crowds of visitors flocked to popular beauty spot Durdle Door, with serious difficulties caused by a lack of open facilities for the visitors – some of whom had travelled for more than four hours.

Miller said: “Just this morning as I was driving my son to school I saw people camping in caravans and tents on verges and in farmer’s fields, urinating and defecating at the side of the road.

“My children now won’t swim at our local beach, which is a quarter of a mile from our house, because there’s human excrement on the beach most mornings.

“It’s really difficult. We’ve got all the agencies involved, we’ve got mitigation plans, but people are still coming. We’re really urging people to check before you come, pre-book parking if you can and stay as close to home as possible.”

She continued: “I don’t necessarily check the local authority Facebook page before I travel, who does? So we’re trying to communicate this message to a wider audience and have done so since May but people are still coming.

“Some have been aggressive because they’ve travelled for five hours to get to this tiny little hole in the cliff. So when you tell them they can’t come in, they become abusive.”

Miller added that she had been spat at by one motorist who had travelled for hours to the area while helping the highways team manage the extremely congested traffic.

People on the beach at Durdle Door on Saturday, May 30.
People on the beach at Durdle Door on Saturday, May 30.

But communications put out by a local authority can only get so far. With councils struggling to stem the flow of visitors, Miller and other officials have called on the government to make their messaging much clearer in order to dissuade tourists from swarming beauty spots.

She said: “I’ll be very clear – I think the government should have [put clearer messaging in place] when they eased lockdown. I think it’s too late now.

“I would welcome government assistance on this. We are used to it being busy here so we have protocols, and after the first bank holiday in May we stood those up very, very quickly.

“But in terms of government assistance there is none. I have raised it with MPs and I understand they are raising it with the government.

“Matt Hancock recently said beaches could close if it becomes a social distancing issue – it was a social distancing issue in April and May. Our voices have not been heard.”

There are serious concerns that the scenes of overcrowding witnessed throughout the week could reoccur as more households – unable to head abroad for a break – seek out some sea air at overcrowded tourist destinations in England.

Lesley Dedman, an Independent councillor for Mudeford, Stanpit & West Highcliffe, near Bournemouth, described Thursday’s overcrowding as “very concerning”.

She said: “Every [coronavirus] case is a tragedy, but everyone in Dorset has worked very hard to prevent many deaths from Covid as we have a big elderly population. It would be awful if this influx of people then brought the infection rate back up.

“If another emergency situation arose, such as the one we saw on Thursday, it would be really, really worrying. But I’m not at all concerned that we didn’t do the right thing – everything was thrown at the problem.

“Our leader did exactly what should be done. I hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does I am sure she will take whatever action needs to be taken.”

While local authorities such as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council have moved quickly in the face of alarmingly large crowds of visitors travelling to the south coast, there are concerns the government has created an incredibly difficult situation for local leaders to manage.

Dedman explained: “My concern is the way in which the PM, in whatever wisdom he has got, has opened some things up but not others.

“When we’re ready for people to come it will be great but at the moment the fact that the government have opened some things – for example takeaways but not restaurants – is causing issues.

“If you go into a restaurant they dispose of your rubbish for you, but people are having to go to takeaways and just chucking the waste on the ground. We’re really well supplied with bins, and they’re being emptied several times a day, but they are being overwhelmed.

“That’s the problem – we haven’t been able to get ready because half the facilities we would usually provide, or the hoteliers would normally provide, are not able to open.

“I’m afraid the government has let us down on it.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Carole Mulroney, who sits on Southend Borough Council, said the combination of loosening lockdown restrictions and the potential for scorching weather in the weeks to come threatened a “perfect storm” of difficult conditions for the popular resort.

The town is used to welcoming huge numbers of tourists each summer, but the periods of good weather throughout lockdown have seen visitors flock to the seafront and exacerbate issues with litter and antisocial behaviour.

“It’s been an absolutely huge challenge, and we’ve got a huge challenge to come,” Mulroney explained.

“Lots of food and drink establishments will be opening, and we want them to open because they’re the lifeblood of the town.

“But if they’re all open, we’ve got really hot weather where people need to get outside and there’s the added problem of alcohol, it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

There are fears that necessary social distancing measures such as pubs making use of outside space will also serious problems, especially when it comes to litter.

Mulroney said: “We’ve got people coming to us constantly to say that the bins are overflowing, our guys are working all hours to keep the beaches and the town clean.

“Residents who are part of beach cleaning groups are out as well, but it’s almost impossible to keep on top of because there’s just so much.

“Because all the cafes and restaurants are closed people are bringing their own food, or going up the high street to the supermarkets and getting plastic bags full of stuff, a lot of which is just being left.

“For some reason at the moment litter just doesn’t seem to be on peoples’ minds, and it’s just abandoned.”

While Southend hasn’t seen overcrowding to the same extent as other tourist destinations such as Bournemouth in recent days, Mulroney explained that it had been a huge task throughout lockdown to ensure safety on the seafront – with much of the responsibility falling to local authorities with little support from government.

Southend seafront, pictured on June 2.
Southend seafront, pictured on June 2.

She said: “If we are going to get a long hot summer it’s going to be a very challenging time, not just for Southend but for all coastal resorts.

“Our officers go through whatever guidance has most recently been published, and they act accordingly, but right from the start we’ve seen at the daily briefings that things have been announced and we haven’t had the guidance for a week, ten days.

“We’ve only ever had limited powers to actually enforce social distancing – it’s meant that we’ve almost been trying to combat it with one hand behind our backs.”

The leader of Southend Council, Labour’s Ian Gilbert, said: “I don’t think there’s been enough thought given to coastal and tourist destinations.

“I think plenty of thought has gone into how individual businesses can operate as the lockdown starts to lift, but when it comes to managing busy open spaces I don’t think enough thought has gone into that.

“Our officers are working as hard as they can on this but there is still a lot of work to do, given how close we are to July 4.”

Asked about the situation on beaches, a Downing Street spokesperson told a Westminster briefing on Friday: “Everyone should be able to enjoy the sunshine, and we understand that people want to enjoy public spaces, but it is important we don’t undo the hard work of the British public in reducing the transmission of this virus.

“It is a matter for local authorities to manage numbers, alongside emergency services and Public Health England.

“As we saw [on Friday] they are best placed to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“We have been clear that should we see case numbers increase we will introduce local lockdowns.”

Pressed on whether the government would close beaches, the Number 10 spokesman said: “It is for local authorities to manage numbers.

“I believe Matt Hancock, when he spoke, was referring to the powers to impose localised lockdowns which we have been clear throughout may need to be the case if we see case numbers rise in a particular area.”

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said “lives depend on all of us taking personal responsibility for our actions”, describing some of the scenes seen around the country as “unacceptable”.

However, Hudspeth also highlighted the issue that closing beaches in one area “may also simply shift the problem elsewhere.”

He added: “Councils and the emergency services cannot be left to manage this issue alone. The government can help councils by stepping up efforts to educate the public on the specific risks posed by ignoring social distancing in tourist environments.

“Rail companies need to enforce rules around face coverings on public transport and, alongside Highways England, can help control numbers by using signage to give plenty of warning about overcrowding so people can change plans.

“It would be a tragedy if our collective efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are undone in a way that leads to a resurgence of this deadly virus that puts further lives at risk.”


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