The last 48 hours has been an incredibly busy time for the council; the announcements made by the Prime Minister on Sunday night have caused us to make some very swift changes to operations, with the detail around the guidelines becoming available late on Monday afternoon and demand for information being such that some updates have been out of date almost as soon as they have been received.
We met with our public sector partners on Monday and that evening met with our Members of Parliament and with Dorset Police to consider the impact of the changes. What became immediately clear was that the decision by the Government to allow travel freely across England (as long as you could return home on the same day) meant that the police could no longer enforce WHERE people went, or WHY, only WHO they met with and at what distance.
Many of our residents do not have the luxury of their own outdoor space or the ability to walk or cycle to their beach. They are now legally able to visit and should be easily able to do so. We questioned what we could do to prevent people from coming into BCP from elsewhere and were told that neither the council, nor the police could legally stop people from coming. As a result of this, the council’s senior management team has taken the decision to reopen our car parks to prevent illegal and dangerous parking across our community. Whilst some people have suggested that this is encouraging visitors, I think the suggestion that someone will decide whether or not to make a journey from a distance based on whether a car park is going to be open is unrealistic – they will arrive and then we will have to deal with the chaos. We know that Dorset council has taken a different approach, but the geography there means that a greater proportion of residents have easier access to wide open spaces than in the BCP area, with visitors to more rural locations spread across a much wider area than our conurbation. Additionally, some of those car parks are run by town or parish councils. Both councils will be charging for car parking and resuming enforcement.
Full details of service changes are being updated frequently, and can be found on our website.
Many takeaway outlets are also open across the conurbation, and people are being urged to return to work, so there are no legitimate reasons for our own outlets to remain closed – we will be operating social distancing measures and avoiding cash for the protection of our staff and the public. Tenanted beach huts will be available – emails have gone to all tenants asking them to observe social distancing and not have gatherings, and to maintain the promenade space. We will gradually reopen public toilets once they have been cleaned and made safe and they will undergo more rigorous cleaning schedules, to ensure people can be outside for longer periods more safely and we will enable access to outside sports spaces as per the Government’s new guidelines.
We have now paid out all outstanding business grants, only those with queries outstanding remain so new applications can be turned around straight away; we are still waiting for the guidance and allocation from the Government for our discretionary scheme. Do sign up for business updates if you want to know more about this, and you will be alerted as soon as we go live.
We have been working with partners across business sectors on ways to restart our economy and have taken the difficult decision to cancel all events over the summer; primarily because of the requirement to maintain social distancing. The air festival date for next year has been confirmed as 2-5 September 2021, and we hope that many people will simply defer their bookings until next year, so that we can secure many of the traders, sponsors and partners by making this commitment. Very sadly, community events have also been cancelled and event organisers have all been contacted.
After a very busy day at the household recycling centres on Monday, the reports from yesterday were that queues were shorter and wait times reduced. We still encourage people not to attend unless urgent until the backlog has been dealt with, but teams have reported no incidents and having visited myself I found the systems really well run and orderly.
Alongside all of this activity, our community hub has received a large number of new referrals from GPs of people who are shielding and are proactively calling them to ensure that they have support or to match them with volunteers; we expect to deal with our 10,000th resident this week and the team are offering fantastic service.
We continue to lobby the Government for funding to support the financial shortfall caused by Covid-19. We are one of 12 councils to have submitted a case study to the Government detailing our response and the unique nature of our situation and we are advised that these case studies along with the detailed submissions due this week will form the basis of decisions around any further support that may be forthcoming.
We were also delighted to hear that the Government is making funding available for measures to increase space for people – through walking and cycling measures. Councillors have been asked for any suggestions of places where we could create improved cycle space, or eliminate rat runs and I would encourage you to contact your ward councillors with any ideas you have, as we want to be able to respond quickly with the new procedures that will support temporary measures. If these temporary measures are successful we hope that communities will want to see them implemented permanently.
I will continue to run my weekly Facebook Live sessions for as long as these are useful to people in gaining first-hand answers to the issues that concern you.
Best wishes for staying safe and well.