Fringe Box



Opinion: Does the Council’s Closing of Car Parks Really Reduce Risk of Infection?

Published on: 12 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 13 Apr, 2020

By Martin Giles

When communities are threatened, to rally round their leaders is natural. Major threats make political differences seem trivial.

We seek clear direction, so firm leadership becomes more popular. Many are keen to follow rules because they hope, that way, our fears will not be realised.

But this should not be blind, unquestioning obedience. Our treasured freedoms must include the right to question.

We all want to limit the impact of coronavirus and we have to reduce the rate of infection to allow our highly valued NHS, appreciated now more than ever, to cope.

Transmission is through human contact, so rules have been put in place to limit that. Obviously, any gathering increases the risk of infection and those carrying the virus are not always obvious.

But if gathering of people is the risk, is the closing of car parks used by walkers sensible?

The need for exercise has been recognised as important. It is among the four permissible reasons to leave home. But where can we take exercise and still minimise human contact?

Some of us have close access to the countryside where maintaining a two-metre distance to others is easy. And it has been shown that many obtain other benefits, mental as well as physical, from a more natural environment.

So isn’t it understandable that those in towns, in gardenless flats, want to be able to drive a short way to exercise in some of Guildford’s beautiful surroundings?

Not everyone was observing the Car Park Closed notice today (Easter Sunday) at the car park near Merrow Golf Club clubhouse.

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens says Surrey police are following The College of Policing advice [see BBC article :Coronavirus: What powers do the police have?] on travel to exercise. Its official guidance to officers is: “Use your judgement and common sense.

“For example, people will want to exercise locally and may need to travel to do so. We don’t want the public sanctioned for travelling a reasonable distance to exercise.”

A “reasonable distance” is not defined and considerable discretion is required by officers trying to enforce the rules fairly. They should always keep in mind the objective of reducing the congregation of people and maintaining social distancing. If those are being observed they should look elsewhere.

Under CC Stephens, our police seem to be getting it mostly right. Examples have not been publicised of his officers checking shopping to assess whether items are “essential” or telling people they can’t use their front gardens.

They will, hopefully, continue to exercise good judgement because maintaining public support is essential for the measures to be effective. After all, they mainly rely on self-discipline.

So where does this leave the council’s decision to close several car parks? Will this really help prevent infections?

Notice at Riverside Park. GBC says: “Do not drive somewhere to exercise.”

Perhaps it will at the still open Riverside Park where maintaining a two-metre distance on the relatively narrow boardwalks must be very difficult, if not impossible. But at St Martha’s and the other places on the list?

Surely it is important not to squeeze more people into areas where social distancing is already more difficult or to encourage them to travel further afield and park on verges possibly causing a hazard.

The council’s given reason for the closure was: “…to restrict people breaching the government advice to stay at home”. But it is not a breach to leave home to exercise nor to travel a reasonable distance for exercise. A clearer explanation or a reconsideration is required.

From my personal experience, maintaining social distance while shopping is the most difficult. Shops are where the biggest concentration of people can be found but we are rarely warned about this.

Retailers have sometimes had to put up with outrageous and selfish behaviour from a small number of customers and have done a sterling job maintaining their essential service.

But we customers must be careful to show consideration and patience within the relatively narrow aisles to ensure our two-metre gaps are maintained.

Surely the authorities need to worry more about this than those who travel a short way to walk in our still uncrowded countryside?

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Responses to Opinion: Does the Council’s Closing of Car Parks Really Reduce Risk of Infection?

  1. Felicity Colman Reply

    April 13, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    I think Martin Giles has made a clear and well explained argument. We are asked to exercise near home, we are asked to maintain social distancing. There are places where these two requirements are not easy to manage. We are not told by government that we may not drive a short distance to exercise.

    Keeping a safe distance, locally would be enabled by opening some car parks to give people more opportunities for avoiding crowded spaces and keeping generous social spacing.

    Certainly use notices to remind of the rules, but it would be safer not riskier to allow more spaces to be available.

  2. Martin Barker Reply

    April 14, 2020 at 11:00 am

    I completely agree that the countryside car parks should be opened. We have some of the most beautiful countryside in England and in this sunny spring weather it is an ideal place for people to exercise.

    There is no real danger of lack of social distancing in the car parks. If someone is accessing the car next to yours, then to wait a few minutes until they have finished cannot be a problem for anyone. Similarly if someone is approaching you on a footpath one or other party stands 6 feet to one side until the person has passed. If this is not possible one or other goes back some yards until there is suitable passing space.

  3. Paul Robinson Reply

    April 15, 2020 at 11:57 am

    Riverside Park has a lot more to offer than narrow boardwalks. The boardwalks must account for less than 5% of the total Riverside area. There are paths around the lake and three big fields/meadows to walk around without coming into close contact with other people. There are a few narrow spots but all it takes is a bit of anticipation to stop and wait on a wider section if you see someone approaching a narrow area and allow them to pass.

    As for closing the car park, it is pointless. Everyone just parks on Bowers Lane instead. Some council official didn’t think that one through.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      April 15, 2020 at 12:41 pm

      While still wondering why a preferred location to go walking has anything to do with a virus which has shown no preference to who or where it infects someone, closing the car park has simply blocked the turning head and meant carriers of the virus are parking outside the residents’ properties in Bowers Lane thus endangering them more. Currently, seven cars on “essential” journeys to their preferred walking area are parked there.

      I have been in lockdown since Christmas. If I catch it, it will be from one of these visitors to the nature reserve.

      • Paul Robinson Reply

        April 15, 2020 at 3:14 pm

        I don’t see why that should be, if you keep your distance when in your front garden.

  4. RWL Davies Reply

    April 15, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    The headline asks: “Does the Council’s Closing of Car Parks Really Reduce Risk of Infection?” A question to which the answer is no.

  5. Sue Hackman Reply

    April 15, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    I agree with Martin Giles that Surrey Police have shown a great deal of tact and good sense so far. It’s going to be needed when restrictions are relaxed and people must necessarily apply good sense for themselves.

    If the council gets officious by piling on extra rules and restrictions, it won’t encourage people to take responsibility for themselves: they’ll just subvert strict restrictions.

    In my part of Guildford, Burpham, the signs are that people can be trusted to apply the common-sense rules: neighbours are keen to help each other; we are looking after our older residents; everyone steps aside on the pavement to create a decent space around other pedestrians; we queue patiently at a distance for the supermarket.

    My concern is for the people who don’t have gardens, who may live in small rooms, perhaps have children off school and a dog that needs to be let out. We don’t all have gardens; we don’t all have lots of living space. For these people, I think access to green spaces, even if it’s a short drive, is really important.

  6. Gordon Bridger Reply

    April 16, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    Why on earth is the car park at the Chantries Closed? It should be re-opened.

  7. Joanne McGowan Reply

    April 22, 2020 at 9:03 am

    I live right in the heart of the town centre, literally a five-minute walk and I am in the High Street. I haven’t once felt the need to drive to go for a walk at one of our beauty spots.

    We have walked from our front door to the stunning castle grounds, Racks Close, The Mount and the fascinating and beautiful Guildford Cemetery, Shalford Common and the Riverside, St Catherine’s Hill, the university and Cathedral Grounds, past the Spectrum along the woods to Burpham and to The Chantries.

    Some are short walks others are longer; on all we passed only a few people all observing social distancing well. There are plenty of walks for town dwellers literally on our doorsteps, without the need to drive anywhere. It has been a delightful revelation.

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