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Western Esplanade is to be widened to allow more space for social distancing along the seafront – but a clear warning has been given that out-of-towners must stay away.
The temporary change will be in place from Chalkwell Avenue to the Pier starting this weekend and is part of Southend Council’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions on the seafront.
Cars will continue to be able to travel in both directions along the esplanade but the width of lanes will be reduced and some parking bays removed.
However, the council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley, said the message continues to be that no one should be visiting Southend’s beaches unless they live locally.
He said: “I would say to people please don’t come down to Southend. My main purpose here it to protect the residents of Southend and if you don’t need to go to the seafront, especially where there are large numbers coming from London and elsewhere, don’t do it.
“We don’t know what they will be bringing with them.”
The Government announced the easing of lockdown restrictions on Sunday and this included telling people they are now able to visit beaches and sunbathe.
But councils representing seaside towns across the country felt the message was vague and gave little guidance to how social distancing could be implemented if crowds of people head to the coast.
Southend Council leader Ian Gilbert said he was “very concerned” by the announcement and it is “hard to see how we will stop large crowds from visiting the seafront”.
He added that while he is reluctant to do so, he will not rule out closures of the seafront or open spaces if the number of visitors cannot be managed safely.
Cllr Martin Terry, who oversees community safety, said: “Physical distancing and ensuring people stay safe and well by staying apart is now a fact of life.
“These measures will help people do that, but we urge everyone across Southend to self-enforce and take individual personal responsibility to keep their distance from those outside their households at this time.”
The town’s top attraction, Southend Pier, will remain shut because it is classed as a ticketed attraction and under government guidance should not open until other leisure attractions such as cinemas and hotels are able to. This will not be until July 4 at the earliest but it could be pushed back further should the number of Covid-19 cases begin to rise.
Cllr Woodley explained the authority’s approach to reopening the seafront aims to comply with national guidance while also protecting residents.