Southend Council reluctant to close seafront amid fears that thousands could turn up over bank holiday weekend

Leading councillors in Southend have said closing the seafront remains a last resort, despite the possibility of thousands descending on the tourist spot this weekend.

Soaring temperatures have caused hundreds to flood Southend’s seafront this week, making social distancing challenging and renewing fears that coronavirus infections could rise as a result.

However, council leaders are reluctant to say they will close it if the area becomes overwhelmed.

Council leader Councillor Ian Gilbert (Lab) said: “The announcement from the Prime Minister that people can take unlimited exercise, sunbathe and visit the beach has clearly caused a problem for us and we are not the only seaside town to experience it.

“Closing the seafront is something we have kept under consideration but doing it will impact access for businesses and for residents who live near there. A full road closure is not easy to and it is not without its drawbacks.”

The deputy leader of the council, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), further explained that “no matter how many council officers or police” are on the streets they cannot stop people “intent on not social distancing and not staying away”.

“We only have the power to advise,” he continued.

“All this is happening because the Prime Minister said get in your car and go anywhere in England.

“To announce what he did, he threw open Southend to a pack of wolves who want to devour everything and leave the mess behind them.

“It is so disappointing, it is depressing. Officers and councillors are doing all they can to try and stem this situation but it is an impossible task.”

He said closing the seafront is a final option but it would mean closing a major artery through the town.

“It is easy to say close the seafront but all it will do is cause people to park further away and then walk down to the beach,” he added.

Rather than close the seafront, the council said it will be relying on measures that were implemented last weekend, including widening the Western Esplanade to give more room to pedestrians.

Councillor Martin Terry, who oversees community safety, said the council has put in “every possible measure” to allow them to visit the seafront safely

“Stay safe, stay apart, has been our very clear message to visitors and residents,” he said.

“We have widened the promenade, installed a traffic contraflow and have additional council staff and volunteers working along the seafront to assist the public.

“There is only so much we can do and the large burden of responsibility falls upon individuals to follow the Government guidance, use their common sense and social distance appropriately.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter