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Council Leader: Car Parks Closed to ‘Help People Comply With Government Guidance’

Published on: 16 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 16 Apr, 2020

St Martha’s Car Park – Closed

The Dragon’s opinion piece by Martin Giles, titled Does the Council’s Closing of Car Parks Really Reduce Risk of Infection? has provoked various reactions? So we asked Guildford Borough Council if there were any photographs or evidence that social distancing had been significantly affected by the car parks being left open?

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Nothing has been offered but council leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) responded: “On Friday evening [April 10] we closed our countryside car parks in line with other borough and district councils across the county.

“The decision to close them was taken to help people comply with the government guidance to stay home, exercise only close to home and to stay two metres apart from others when outdoors. The guidance is in place to minimise the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19) which, in turn, takes pressure off the NHS and will help to save lives.

“We are extremely grateful to see how the majority of Guildford residents have embraced staying at home and are diligently following the new rules by not driving and staying local to exercise and we urge them to please keep this up.”

We then sought comment on this response from other GBC party leaders asking:

  • Do you support the council’s action?
  • Were ward councillors consulted?
  • Do you think the government guidelines and the local implementation policies are sufficiently clear and priorities correct?
  • Do you think enough is being done to encourage observance of social distancing while shopping?

Here is what they said:

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch)

“Personally, I disagree with this general approach but GBC was left with no choice but to take this decision.  We were the last remaining borough in the county with open countryside car parks and under increasing pressure from our partners in the police and other authorities to provide a consistent approach across the county.

“I exercise in the Chantries and at St Martha’s every day and I’ve seen no evidence of non-compliant behaviours but being the sole area with open car parks could have caused people from further away to travel to us.

“We also have to have confidence that those making these decisions higher up in government who have access to more data and modelling and are better informed to make these difficult calls.  I ask everyone to please respect the decision even if you don’t agree with it, we need the lockdown over as quickly as possible and that requires sacrifices from all of us.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Susan Parker (Guildford Greenbelt Group, Send)

“I am very happy to support the council’s action. Covid-19 is enormously dangerous for us all (all age groups, not just the elderly) and we need to ensure that we minimise travel.
“We should all be exercising only within a local area, walking or cycling distance from our homes, and not using our cars except for essential purposes (essential work, food, medicine). We don’t want to encourage or accept visitors from outside our area, and so it is, unfortunately, necessary to shut the car parks.”

Brian Creese

Brian Creese (Chairman, Guildford Labour Party)

“These are unprecedented times and we have all tacitly agreed to measures which would normally have us running to the barricades in protest. But maintaining public support and compliance is essential, and is not an easy call.

“On the one side, I entirely understand the appeal of closing the car parks. The Government has a simple message  “Stay at Home” repeated endlessly (almost as if it could be on the side of a bus). A simple message to state, a simple message with which to comply. And when given scope, some people have undeniably taken advantage; images of people queuing up Snowden will take a long time to forget.

“But, as we understand it, there is little danger of infection from sitting in your private car, and walking in open space is an essential part of the new world.

“Why can’t you escape from a crowded urban area and go to open countryside? I am very aware that for those of us with gardens or who live close to the countryside to insist those with families living in flats in Stoke or Stoughton have to stay locked in their urban area does seem rather hypocritical.

“If the council gets officious by piling on extra rules and restrictions it risks losing that broad public support and will simply lead to attempts to subvert the restrictions.

“Across Guildford, there is more evidence of cooperation and support than occasional and shocking selfishness; neighbours are keen to help each other, look after older residents and queue patiently at a distance for the supermarket.

“Guildford Labour Party would prefer to see the council treating people as intelligent human beings, perfectly capable of understanding the nuances of the situation, and being given the full facts. This rather patronising approach from Guildford Borough Council risks losing vital public support.”

This evening (April 16) it has been reported that government guidance lists driving to the countryside for a walk as “reasonable” if “far more time” is spent walking than driving.

But driving for a “prolonged period with only brief exercise” is not reasonable.

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Responses to Council Leader: Car Parks Closed to ‘Help People Comply With Government Guidance’

  1. C Harding Reply

    April 17, 2020 at 8:06 am

    Personally I don’t see the issue with driving for 5 to 15 minutes to a local park or countryside to take exercise, however, when the National Trust and Surrey County Council closed their car parks a few weeks ago (after the infamous weekend of people queueing up Snowdon or sitting sunbathing on beaches) this definitely put more pressure on other local parks and car parks.

    I live in Merrow so driving briefly to Clandon, Hatchlands or Newlands Corner to walk the dog is surely still exercising locally?

    But a couple of weekends ago I drove to St Martha’s as the other places were shut. The car park there was rammed and the hilltop very busy, much busier than I bet it would have been if the other places still had their car parks open.

    However, it was still possible to walk and maintain a two-metre distance. I can see how GBC was basically left with very little choice. The issue is unclear government guidance.

  2. Mike Carter Reply

    April 17, 2020 at 8:08 am

    This actually goes beyond the government guidelines and shows local councils taking the law into their own hands, worsening the conditions of lockdown for many.

    Let’s face it, we need public compliance and support. Closing car parks was to force a type of behaviour, not to “encourage it” and since this runs counter to the “short drive permitted” government message it has to be an overreaction. The exercise periods are allowed to be fun.

    Yes really. We are not prisoners condemned to trudge drearily round a dull exercise yard. Force us to act like that and lockdown won’t stick.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 18, 2020 at 7:04 am

    A total over reaction by GBC. I’m lucky to live within a five-minute walk of Hatchlands, but what about those in town and in flats. They need to get out to the countryside to remain sane.

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