FAQs on social distancing, beaches and car parks
What is social distancing?
The Government says that whilst recognising this will not always be possible, it is important to be aware that the risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus, and the amount of time you spend in close contact with them. Therefore, you are unlikely to be infected if you walk past another person in the street.
Public Health England recommends trying to keep two metres away from people as a precaution. However, this is not a rule and the science is complex. The key thing is to not be too close to people for more than a short period of time, as much as you can.
The Government also says you are at higher risk of being directly exposed to respiratory droplets (released by talking or coughing) when you are within two metres of someone and have face-to-face contact with them. You can lower the risk of infection if you stay side-to-side rather than facing someone.
Why is social distancing not being enforced?
Social distancing does not form part of the legislation and is therefore not enforceable.
Essex Police says: “We are regularly on patrol in Southend-on-Sea, working alongside our colleagues from the Council, to ensure people are safe and abiding by the law.
“The government has provided guidance for people to keep two metres apart from those who do not live in your household.
“In line with the national approach outlined by the National Police Chief’s Council, this does not from part of the legislation and therefore not enforceable.
“We will continue to encourage people to do the right thing and follow government guidance for the safety of themselves and others.
“Our focus remains protecting and serving the people of Essex and we will continue our work with our partners to help people, keep them safe and catch criminals.”
Why are you ‘allowing people to sit on the beach’
The Government have set out a limited number of things that people can now do that they could not do before lockdown measures were relaxed.
Along with exercising outdoors as often as you wish, the Government have clearly stated that people can sit and enjoy the fresh air, have picnics and sunbathe.
Why don’t you just stop people entering Southend-on-Sea?
This is not something the council has the power to do, and in any case, the Government have clearly stated that there are no restrictions on how far someone can travel for their exercise and outdoor activity.
The Government guidance states: ‘You can travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance.’
Furthermore, the Government states: ‘day trips to outdoor open space, in a private vehicle, are permitted. You should practise social distancing from other people outside your household.’
This has created issues for popular day trip locations like Southend-on-Sea. Whilst we can discourage and deter visitors, as we have done through the Don’t Visit Southend campaign for example, we have no power to stop people visiting Southend-on-Sea. Essex Police powers deal with people breaking the law. Driving to Southend-on-Sea to sit on the beach or sunbathe is not breaking the law.
The leader of the council wrote to local MPs and government departments before relaxation to lockdown measures were announced to express serious concern and ask what consideration was being given to seaside towns like ours.
Why don’t you close the beach?
In addition to everything highlighted above regarding the new Government guidance and the rights of people to access open spaces, ‘closing the beach’ is not practically possible. With seven miles of beach, numerous entry points and thousands of residential properties only metres from the beach in many place, the geography of our area also makes it almost impossible to do logistically.
Why did you re-open car parks?
We took the difficult decision to reopen five seafront car parks from Saturday 16 May. Other car parks had remained open through lockdown.
To do otherwise would lead to massive extra pressure on residential streets, with all the additional problems that that causes for local residents.
We experienced this the weekend before the Government made its announcement and ‘lockdown’ was still in full force, and even with car parks re-opened, have seen inconsiderate and dangerous parking in side streets, on double yellow lines and in residential or seasonal zones for example.
Re-opening the car parks is all about money?
That is not correct. To encourage and enable social distancing through a contraflow system, we have suspended around 1,000 parking bays on Western Esplanade, therefore limiting car parking available. We would not have done this, or shut car parks, and completely scaled back enforcement for many weeks during the pandemic if our decisions were based on financial matters.
Why are takeaways, donut and ice cream vendors open? You should close them down
These businesses are legally allowed to be open and the council cannot ‘close them down.’
We are working with these businesses to advise and support them to implement social distancing measures for the protection of their staff and local people. This has included putting up barriers under the Pier for example to block off parking bays to give more room for people to queue. We are regularly reviewing all measures in place.
What measures have we put in place for those who do visit?
From Saturday 16 May, we implemented a contraflow system along Western Esplanade from Chalkwell all the way to the Pier to reduce the space for cars, and increase it for pedestrians and cyclists. Parking bays along this whole area remain suspended. This restricts traffics and provides more space for people to maintain physical distance. Whilst the road is open, we retain the right to close it, although this is an operational decision that we would only make with police support.
We also have a number of staff working across the seafront, including marshals, community safety officer, parking enforcement officers, and colleagues from Essex Police, along with highways and cleansing contractors. Beach welfare officers and ‘stay safe stay apart’ volunteer marshals are also in place at weekends. Together, this combined team are on hand to offer help and advice to people, encourage social distancing, help with central seafront toilet queue management/sanitation stations that have been put in place, and help ensure Southend-on-Sea is a safe environment for all.
We also continue to discourage people from visiting and are asking people to ‘think twice, don’t travel stay local’ and have a local social media campaign and signage asking people to ‘stay safe, stay apart.’
As much as we will continue to discourage visitors, the fact is that some will continue to come and we saw that even before lockdown was officially eased, not only in Southend-on-Sea but across the nations beaches, parks and beauty spots.
We will do all we can to deter visitors and ask them to leave the area alone for locals at this time, ask people to consider their actions and help us provide as safe an environment as possible.