A major incident was declared after thousands of people descended on Bournemouth’s beaches on over the past two days, which was the hottest day of the year so far. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council said Bournemouth Beach was “stretched to the absolute hilt”.
The police reported gridlocked roads, fighting and overnight camping as the weekend begins. These problems led to a multi-agency emergency response being activated to co-ordinate resources across the area.
Council Leader Vikki Slade said: “We are absolutely appalled at the scenes witnessed on our beaches, particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks, in the last 24-48 hours. The irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe. We have had no choice now but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.”
Services were left overstretched as visitors arrived in large volumes, resulting in widespread problems of illegal parking, excessive waste, anti-social behaviour, gridlock on roads and prohibited overnight camping. There were also a number of incidents reported that involved excessive alcohol and fights.
BCP Council issued 558 parking enforcement fines – the highest on record for one day – and responded to reports of cars parking and causing an obstruction.
Refuse crews received widespread abuse and intimidation as they attempted to empty overflowing bins on the seafront. In the stretch between the piers, eight tonnes of waste were collected on Wednesday on the second collection run of the day. On Friday morning, a further 33 tonnes of waste were removed along the full stretch of coastline.
Additional police patrols were brought in, security patrols put in place to protect refuse crews and additional parking enforcement implemented to support the management of car parks and ticketing. Overnight campers were evicted and further patrols by seafront ranger staff will be put in place.
Signage urging people that the conurbation is full have been posted on approach roads. Public health messaging has also gone out to ensure people stay hydrated, especially if stuck in long traffic queues.
Council Leader Vikki Slade said: “The numbers of people descending down here are like those seen on a bank holiday. We are not in a position to welcome visitors in these numbers now or to deal with the full range of problems associated with managing volumes of people like this. PLEASE do not come. We are not able to welcome you yet.”
The ‘stay away’ message was endorsed by Assistant Chief Constable Sam de Reya, of Dorset Police. “These are unprecedented times and we are urging people to stay away from the area of Bournemouth Beach and other Dorset beaches,” she said. “We continue to work very closely with BCP Council and other partners to ensure the safety of the public. We are also deploying additional resources to provide increased patrols in the vicinity to help tackle any issues of anti-social behaviour and other offences being committed.
“The declaration of a major incident allows us to bring agencies together so we can take actions available to us to safeguard the public as much as possible. We are also reliant on people taking personal responsibility and strongly advise members of the public to think twice before heading to the area. Clearly we are still in a public health crisis and such a significant volume of people heading to one area places a further strain on emergency services resources.
“This influx of visitors to our area places a significant increase in demand on our service and we would ask people to please bear with us. We would therefore stress again that we are asking people to PLEASE stay away from the area.”
The Royal Bournemouth Hospital and Poole Hospital also declared it was on “major incident standby”. In a joint statement, the NHS trusts said this was due to the impact of extremely crowded beaches, traffic gridlock on roads, incidents of public disorder and risks from fire and to public health.
It is understood that families had travelled from as far afield as London and Birmingham to the beaches in Dorset. Current government guidelines state households can drive any distance in England to parks and beaches.
Some motorists had to queue for two hours to get into Bournemouth and car parks were full by 9am on Thursday. Traffic also built up early on coast-bound roads heading for the resort and areas such as Durdle Door and the Sandbanks peninsula.
Dorset councillor Laura Miller reported being verbally abused and spat at as she directed traffic at Durdle Door on Wednesday. Roads to the beauty spot were closed after people failed to use the pre-booking parking system. “I have been shouted and sworn at and one guy spat at me,” she said. “These are people who have travelled three or four hours in their car, they are hot and grumpy and then they are turned away. Some drivers have ignored our barriers and just knocked them over and driven through.”
Cllr Miller asked that the public refrain from visiting until proper controls can be put in place. “Our local industry is dependent on tourism,” Cllr Miller told the BBC. “We're not saying 'don't come', but come here in a safe and managed way. When it's too busy, no-one is having fun," she said.
The chain ferry linking Sandbanks and Studland was unable to carry vehicles late into Wednesday evening because of the gridlock on surrounding roads. On Thursday, the ferry service in Sandbanks tweeted: “Again we’re struggling to get traffic off the ferry at Poole, for now we hope to carry half loads of vehicles from Studland, but depends on the gridlock in Sandbanks tonight.”
BCP's Conservative opposition was critical of the Liberal Democrat-led council’s handling of the situation. Cllr Philip Broadhead, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group and Shadow Portfolio Holder for Tourism, said: “As one of the UK’s premier tourist resorts, we are used to a large influx of visitors. The volume of people we are seeing is nothing that would normally cause major concern. What is of major concern, however, is the council’s response. Despite all the warning signs, the council appear to have been caught inexplicably off guard by what is, by all accounts, a busy couple of days at the beach. Why were there no extra bin collections? Why do some car parks remain closed? The council were unprepared for the last Bank Holiday weekend.”
Local MPs’ concerns
Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West said: “The scenes we have witnessed over the last two days that have drawn national attention risk Bournemouth being known for all the wrong reasons.”
Burns said the council had “utterly failed” to learn the lessons from the recent Bank Holiday. “Illegal parking is rife with scant enforcement, some of our more selfish second home owners have returned and the beaches are packed. We should have been much better prepared for this and the messaging should have been stronger and clearer. The buck for this stops firmly at the door of the Town Hall.”
Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood said he had asked the government to dispatch additional police officers to Dorset if needed to deal with traffic and anti-social behaviour. “It is very sad to see a number of people being selfish and also acting dangerously,” he said. “A lot of people have chosen to be not just irresponsible but dangerous. We’ve made such progress tackling this pandemic. I’d hate to see Bournemouth be the one place in Britain that gets that second spike.”
Ellwood said it was not practical to close the beaches altogether but suggested signs warning about overcrowding could be put up at railway stations and on approaching motorways. He said the government needed to adopt a dynamic response to beach crowding, otherwise the lockdown would have “been for nothing”.
There needs to be stronger messaging from the government on the continued risks surrounding COVID-19, said Ellwood. “I’m sorry to see the departure of the No 10 briefings because they would have been perfect for today, for a key figure in No 10 to clarify what is actually happening in Bournemouth and to clarify that message nationally, to say ‘please for the moment stay away from all our seafronts’," he said.
Whitty’s warning: Chief Medical Officer reacts
The UK's chief medical adviser has warned people that they must follow social distancing guidance while enjoying the sun, or risk resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
Professor Chris Whitty made his remarks via social media after the major incident was declared in Bournemouth. “Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all,” he said.
On Twitter, Prof Whitty said: “COVID-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation. If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again.”
Government is ‘reluctant’ to act
Whitty’s concerns were echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said the government has the power to shut down beaches if necessary. Speaking on talkRADIO, Hancock said: “We do have that power. I am reluctant to use it because people have had a pretty tough lockdown and I want everybody to be able to enjoy the sunshine.
“But the key is to do it with respect for the rules – stay with your household, stay a good distance from other households. But we do have those powers and if we see a spike in the number of cases then we will take action.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said that government would only close beaches “reluctantly”. Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Eustice said the packed beaches on the south coast should be viewed in the context of the exceptionally hot weather. He said people have generally observed current social distancing rules, which mean keeping 2-metres apart from other households.
“We just have to recognise yesterday was the hottest day of the year, incredibly hot, a lot of people had the same idea, they all went to the beach, and yes of course those scenes at Bournemouth are a matter for concern,” he said. “The British weather being what it is maybe that will be short-lived and people will return to the type of social distancing they've actually demonstrated quite well.”
PM warns against second spike
Later on Friday 26 June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that in coronavirus cases abroad should act as a warning to people who flout social distancing rules. Speaking after the World Health Organization said Europe had seen an increase in weekly cases of COVID-19 for the first time in months after restrictions were eased. “Some parts of the world, I won't name them, but you have got spikes, really serious spikes in instances of the disease, so it's crucial that people understand that on 4 July we get this right, that we do this in a balanced way, and we recognise the risks," he said. "You may think you are not going to get it, that you're immortal and invincible and so on - and very likely that's true if you are young person. But the bug you carry can kill elderly people particularly. It is still dangerous; the virus is still out there.”
The challenges of policing illegal gatherings
Local authorities and police forces having to disperse groups at many places across the UK. Concern has been expressed about people gathering around the UK during this week's heatwave, including street parties in London and Manchester, crowded beaches and celebrating Liverpool fans.
Police reported several incidents after crowds gathered at beaches. There has been violence too: three men from London stabbed in Bournemouth; two men stabbed after a gathering on Leysdown beach in Kent, and violent clashes at Ogmore-by-Sea in the Vale of Glamorgan.
In London, the Metropolitan Police has warned that it would be placing a “particular focus on spontaneous unlawful music events that often attract large crowds” that flouted the health regulations" this weekend. It comes after Met Police officers were attacked while attempting to disperse crowds at an illegal party for a second night.
Thursday was the second consecutive day when the UK recorded its hottest temperature of the year so far – a temperature of 33.3oC (92oF) at Heathrow Airport. Both Wales and Scotland also recorded their hottest days of the year. In Northern Ireland, a high of 25.5oC was recorded in Aldergrove.
Pandemic’s death toll mounts
The UK's coronavirus death toll is 43,414 as of Friday 26 June. New figures, released by the Department for Health and Social Care, showed 309,360 people have tested positive across the UK.
Since May, people in England have been able to meet in groups of up to six people in outdoor spaces such as parks or private gardens, provided they observe social distancing and remain two metres apart. The UK Government has since announced a further easing of lockdown restrictions in England, which are due to come into effect from 4 July.
The new approach includes the introduction of the “1-metre-plus” rule, which states that if a distance of 2-metres is not possible then 1-metre is acceptable as long as mitigating precautions are taken, such as the use of face coverings.
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