Cllr Mike Bell, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group in North Somerset Council, has led calls to the Government and Parliamentarians to limit outdoor travel limits for outdoor exercise under the eased lockdown rules announced this week. “We don't want visitors to come to North Somerset,” said Bell, the Deputy Leader of North Somerset Council, who commented on the need “to keep our open spaces for local residents only for the time being to keep our area safe.”
Under government rules, people can travel unlimited distances for outdoor exercise, sunbathing, picnics and sport as long as they stay in their household group and practice social distancing. This means that many people may choose to hit the beaches and open spaces of North Somerset.
Cllr Bell, who is the Executive Member for Health and Adult Social Care added: “we'd like the government to clarify the rules and limit distances that people can travel and give police the power to enforce this. We all want to ease the lockdown and get our lives and economy back to normal, but it has to be done in a phased way and not risk a dash to the seaside or tourist areas.”
Cllr Bell’s comments followed the well-publicised Don’t Visit Weston Campaign launched by Tourism bosses in North Somerset Council. A Council Spokesperson stated: “We’re asking would be visitors to please stay away. Don’t visit North Somerset. Not yet. Not at the moment. We don’t wish you were here and we’re not open for visitors. Our priority and our main concern is protecting the health and wellbeing of our local communities.”
Mayor of Weston, Mark Canniford, amplified these messages, commenting: “We will be open again soon and look forward to seeing our visitors then but for now, stay away and stay safe”
A full version of Cllr Bell’s Letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnston and John Penrose MP is available below:
Dear Prime Minister,
I write to you regarding the new rules that have been introduced to ease the lockdown restrictions and specifically the new guidance issued that from this week people are allowed to drive unlimited distances for outdoor exercise. I recognise that the ability for people to get outdoors for a walk or a run, especially for people living in urban areas, is important for their physical and mental health. I also recognise that after many weeks in lockdown, it is right that households be permitted to enjoy our outdoor spaces more freely including through playing sports, sunbathing and so on.
However, North Somerset has a number of attractive coastal facilities in our major towns of Weston-super-Mare, Portishead and Clevedon and I am concerned that the new rules will encourage a significant influx of visitors from many miles around to enjoy the new freedoms you have introduced.
Weston-super-Mare alone can attract upwards of 100,000 visitors in a single day on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend — and we have one coming up. Local residents have worked hard to stay at home and keep the number of Covid-19 cases in North Somerset low. I am concerned that their hard work will be undermined by visitors from other areas.
North Somerset Council has sent a clear message that we do not want visitors to come right now and that our outdoor spaces are primarily for the benefit of our local residents. It is too soon for large numbers of visitors.
The simplest way of protecting communities from an influx of visitors and giving the police a chance of enforcing rules is to introduce a limit on the distance that people can travel, in consultation with local authorities. This could vary around the country according to population needs and availability of outdoor space, but would protect communities — particularly those in tourist areas — from undue impact.
I would urge you to consider this as a matter of urgency. I am copying this letter to our local Members of Parliament for their interest.
Councillor Mike Bell
Deputy Leader, North Somerset Council
Weston-super-Mare Central Ward