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Social distancing measures will make public spaces feel safer, says new guidance

Coronavirus: Government issues rules for travel in urban centres, trips to the park and journeys to the countryside in England

Mark Moran
13 May 2020
Social distancing measures on the High Street


The Government has published guidance on accessing urban centres and green space.  The guidance sets out how high streets and areas around transport hubs and parks can be managed and operated safely, thus giving people confidence to return to public spaces.

The guidance also suggests practical measures owners and operators can take to help people socially distance in public places including making more room for pedestrians and making it easier for people to cycle or walk to work.

Measures suggested in the guidance include:

  • introducing new cycle paths or extending existing paths
  • making high-streets streets pedestrianised or introducing one-way traffic
  • separate entry and exit routes in shops
  • changing car parking layouts
  • widening footpaths, temporary barriers or spray markings outside shops to support queuing
  • signs to encourage people to wait to allow others to pass on footpaths.

The advice has been developed with local councils, town centre managers, landowners, commercial landlords and management companies. The guidance also sets out measures for land around commercial buildings, transport hubs and green spaces including parks and cemeteries.

Socially distanced leisure
People in England can now spend more time outdoors and enjoy a wider range of activities for any length of time, subject to social distancing rules, says other new Government guidance published today.

People and their households can relax in the park, sunbathe, go for a picnic and go fishing. They will also be able to spend time with one member of another household, one-on-one, as long as they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines at all times, staying 2-metres apart.

Guidance that said people could only go out to exercise once a day has also been withdrawn.

Outdoor sports facilities can reopen including outdoor tennis courts, golf clubs and basketball courts meaning that people can play a greater range of sport. They will be able to do this alone, with their household or one other person, while adhering to social distancing.

Travelling away from home
People will also be able to travel further to enjoy their time outside, with no restrictions on how far they can go to get to the countryside, National Parks and beaches in England.

The Government’s advice remains that everybody should continue to avoid public transport other than for essential journeys. Therefore, people should only make these journeys by cycling, walking or driving in a private vehicle. People also should check in advance of visiting places like National Parks and beaches to make sure they are prepared for visitors.

It remains the case that people cannot gather with more than one member of another household for example to play sports. They also cannot:

  • go on holiday
  • visit and stay overnight at a holiday home or second home
  • visit the homes of friends and family, unless it is to help a vulnerable person, for medical reasons, or to take a child to another household with whom parental responsibilities are shared.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Spending time outdoors, exercising or just enjoying the countryside is essential for our physical health and wellbeing. The restrictions have impacted everyone, but particularly those without much living space or a garden. We want to make life as healthy, bearable and social as possible, whilst controlling the virus and saving lives. That is why we have worked to find safe ways to enable more people to spend more time outdoors.”

Stricter fines
More stringent enforcement measures for non-compliance with the new rules have also come into effect today. Fines have been increased, and will now start at £100, which will be lowered to £50 if paid within 14 days. This will double on each further repeat offence up to £3,200.

The Government said the higher fines are designed a clear message to the small minority who break the law. The police will continue to use their common sense, discretion and experience when people are not following the guidelines. As they have throughout, they will engage, explain, encourage and only as a last resort consider enforcement by way of fixed penalty notice.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair Martin Hewitt said: “The efforts of the public mean police officers have rarely had to enforce the government regulations so far. I am confident the vast majority will continue to do their bit and follow guidance in this next stage. We are all now able to spend much more time outdoors and each of us need to take responsibility for doing that within the social restrictions set out by the government. Our approach will continue use common sense and discretion, and to engage, explain, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce.”

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