Parkrun return date in doubt over COVID compliance concerns

Chelmsford City Council says it cannot guarantee a resumption of Parkrun on the date that national runs are due to resume – despite pressures from the Government.

All councils in the UK have been urged to permit weekly Parkrun events to resume in their area. Organisers announced last week that they have delayed the planned return of 5km events in England until June 26.

But Chelmsford City Council says a COVID risk assessment for all large events – prior to further relaxation of restrictions on June 21 – is almost impossible and able to show that the risks could be controlled.

The Chelmsford Parkrun attracts almost 1,000 runners to the 5km Central Park course.

Parkrun say they are “in positive conversations” with landowners for all other events where permission has not yet been forthcoming, and “continue to work collaboratively with them to agree this new restart date.

In a letter to all councils in England, communities secretary Robert Jenrick and culture secretary Oliver Dowden said sport and physical activity were particularly important “as we recover from the pandemic”.

And while acknowledging pressures that local authorities were under to consider requests for organised outdoor sports safely, they stressed that Parkrun is exempt from legal gathering limits and could take place with any number of participants as long as they are in line with COVID guidance.

Mr Jenrick and Mr Dowden wrote:  “We therefore strongly urge local authorities to ensure that they are applying their powers in a consistent and proportionate manner and progressing Parkrun’s applications at pace in order to allow these events to return as soon as possible.

Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said: “Chelmsford City Council thinks that Parkrun is an excellent activity. But the Government insists that there needs to be a COVID risk assessment for all large events prior to Step 4 relaxation on June 21.

“The return of Parkrun was discussed at a recent Essex Health Protection Board.

“The board agreed that if Parkrun was to return ahead of Step 4 of the COVID Roadmap – currently June 21 –  that would require local risk assessments to manage the COVID risks associated with the activity.

“Parkrun UK were informed of this decision.

“Three or four of the 20 plus Parkruns within Essex have been given permission but these are probably smaller parkruns or operated by non-local authority land owners.

“Chelmsford Central Parkrun is one of the largest parkruns in the country regularly attracting between 850 and 950 runners.

“Without a local risk assessment the council is unsure how the event can be operated whilst complying with existing COVID restrictions, particularly those in place to control gatherings and social distancing.

“Parkrun UK have been resistant to local risk assessments and are using a national framework to evidence the safety and compliance of parkruns.

“Unfortunately, this national framework is not detailed enough for many land owners on whose land parkruns operate to give permission for those runs to return whilst we are still in COVID Roadmap Step 3.

“The city council has not received a local risk assessment and believes that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to produce a local risk assessment that showed that the risks could be controlled.

“Without such a risk assessment, the council would be open to criticism and possibly even legal action if it allowed such an event.

“As things currently stand, once we are at Step 4 of the COVID Roadmap, that would allow Chelmsford Central Parkrun to return without any need for a local risk assessment.

“The city council looks forward to that being possible and will work with parkrun to bring the event back as soon as possible.”

Maldon Council was one of the first councils as landowners to say yes to Maldon Parkrun, but are said to have been told that the National Parkrun Organisation have said that they will not be reopening Parkrun events until their target date of June 26.

Essex Council Council, which owns Weald Country Park where there is a 5k run, said it was working to get the event back by June 26.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “ECC is working to get Parkrun back in Essex Country Parks as soon as possible, certainly to meet the aim of Parkrun’s current national target date of June 26.

“The necessary public health risk assessments will be worked on by city, borough and district Environmental Health colleagues along with local Parkrun organisers, and when we have sign-off on these, Essex County Council will be ready to welcome Parkrun back to country park sites.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter