DORSET Council has announced it will be reopening some car parks and public toilet facilities in “key locations” in time for this weekend’s Bank Holiday.
However, the council continues to ask people thinking of visiting Dorset’s seaside or beauty spots over the weekend and half term to be considerate and think about the potential impact of any visit on Dorset’s communities.
Dorset currently has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country thanks to residents who have followed the government’s ‘stay at home’ advice over the past few weeks.
The council is asking people from other areas of the country not to visit at present as it risks spreading the virus to local communities.
Dorset has a large older population and many people have underlying health conditions which make them more vulnerable to the virus.
The latest government guidelines prohibit people from staying overnight at any place that isn’t their main home. The council is reminding any potential visitors that they must not stay overnight – whether in cars, tents, motorhomes, camper vans, second homes or holiday accommodation right now.
The government has also said: “It is also important that everyone continues to act responsibly, as the large majority have done to date. The infection rate will increase if people begin to break these rules and, for example, mix in groups”.
For anyone considering a visit to the coast, the RNLI has said that lifeguards will not be on beaches and is advising people not to swim or take part in water sports.
Last weekend saw traffic levels across Dorset that were 40% lower than a usual May weekend. Generally, the numbers of people at beaches and beauty spots were manageable and most managed to maintain social distancing.
However, there were issues in a number of areas including Lulworth, Portland and West Bexington with irresponsible behaviour by visitors such as illegal parking, littering and lack of social distancing. And, with this week’s good weather, the number of visitors to the county appears to be increasing significantly.
Which car parks and toilets will be open?
In response to the changing situation over the past week, Dorset Council is reopening some car parks and public toilets in key locations in time for the bank holiday weekend to help cope with demand. The usual charges will apply at these car parks.
This includes Holmbush car park in Lyme Regis, while the town council will also be reopening Woodmead and Monmouth Beach car parks. The toilets on Marine Parade and at Woodmead Halls will also be open.
The park and ride service in Lyme Regis will not be operating due to the difficulty in maintaining social distancing on the buses.
The council reserves the right to close or suspend any facilities if it is deemed that public health is in danger through visitors not following social distancing measures.
Some residents have feared the reopening of car parks, expressing concerns that it will result in an influx of visitors, while others have argued in favour, suggesting it will stop visitors from parking on roadsides and will give a boost to local traders.
A statement from the town council said the public health need to open public toilets, particularly the requirement for regular hand-washing, had influenced its decision to open the seafront facilities.
To protect the public, there will be a heightened cleaning regime, hand sanitiser will be made available at key points, people will be encouraged to use phone and pay parking, and signs about social distancing and other advisory notices will be highly visible.
The beach, which has remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, is open as usual, but social distancing will be encouraged and people will be asked to consider using outlying beaches and the seafront gardens.
Although the town is gradually being reopened, people are still asked to think carefully about visiting Lyme Regis.
The mayor, Cllr Brian Larcombe said: “Although the restrictions have been relaxed and the government has stated people can travel to beach destinations, we need to respect the social distancing measures in place and remain alert, while also adapting to the changing situation.
“The town council is trying to navigate its way through this by gradually re-opening services and facilities to support the local economy and the wider national efforts to emerge from this global pandemic, but our priority is the safety and health of our residents.
“That is why we are asking visitors to consider the local community before travelling to Lyme Regis and please don’t expect things to be the same as before, as many services and facilities remain closed.
“If you do come to Lyme Regis, please act responsibly, observe social distancing guidance, and adhere to the measures put in place for the safety of yourselves and others.”
Many of the town and seafront businesses remain closed and there are no seafront activities operating, such as trampolines, kayaking and deckchairs. All beach hut bookings in May have been cancelled and bookings in June are now under review.
The town council’s amenities’ area – mini golf, table tennis and putting green – will remain closed, as well as the town’s two play parks at Anning Road and Henry’s Way and the public toilets at Anning Road playing field.
There will be no market stalls or performances in the Marine Parade shelters and Jazz Jurassica, which was scheduled to take place this weekend, has been cancelled.
The skatepark at Charmouth Road car park will reopen in line with the government’s advice that some outdoor leisure activities can resume, but users must act responsibly and follow social distancing and safety advice.
Parking payment methods
Dorset Council continues to encourage the use of contactless payment for parking via phone-call, text message or smartphone app as the safest way to avoid spread of the virus. However, in response to public requests, the council is reinstating cash and card payment methods for drivers who do not use a mobile phone.
Due to the required use of keypads at payment machines, visitors who choose to pay by cash or card do so at their own risk. People are strongly encouraged to wash their hands both before and after using the machines to lower the chance of infection.
Dorset Council’s leader, Cllr Spencer Flower, said: “Throughout the pandemic all councils have had to react to a rapidly changing situation, and our priority has always been to protect the health and wellbeing of Dorset residents above all else. We continue to ask visitors to ‘Think Twice’ about coming to our county at this time.
“However, after closely monitoring what is happening at various locations around Dorset over the past week, we have taken the sensible, but very difficult, decision to adapt our approach in order to deal with emerging problems.
“There are no perfect solutions at this time of crisis. Striking the balance between looking after the safety and health of all our residents while discouraging the mass gathering of people at our many beautiful tourist destinations will remain difficult for the foreseeable future.
“I would like to thank town and parish councils for working with us on these arrangements. And I would particularly like to thank all Dorset residents for their patience and understanding. Dorset Council is working non-stop to rise to the challenge of COVID-19 and I remain incredibly proud of our efforts during these unprecedented times.”