Letter to Health & Communities ministers about public safety & lockdown easing

The Rt Hon Matt Hancok MP, Secretary of State for Health

The Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

1st July 2020

Dear Secretaries of State,

 Ahead of the further easing of lockdown measures due to take place on the 4th July I’m writing to express my concerns about public safety in our open spaces in Brighton and Hove. For good reason, the city is a popular destination for visitors. Its proximity to London, and position on the coast, along with its large number of independent shops and cafes, creates a unique feel which has long made the city a popular place for day-trippers.

 Research from Visit England shows that the Palace Pier in Brighton has traditionally been the most visited free tourist attraction outside of London, with annual visitor numbers of just under 5 million; and the city has around 11 million visitors annually.

 Whilst I am a huge champion of all that is brilliant in the city, and I understand the many businesses desperate to re-open and resume trading, I am concerned that visitor numbers could have the potential to compromise public safety if the authorities are not provided with greater support to manage the situation.

 As we saw in Bournemouth just last week, people are desperate to enjoy time outside with others on the coast, and this can quickly become unmanageable. It is hugely important that people visiting Brighton and Hove are able to do so safely, that public safety isn’t compromised by social distancing not being possible, and that visitor numbers do not undermine the safety and freedoms of local residents. 

 The situation in Leicester further evidences how fragile things remain. The risks of Brighton and Hove becoming a hotspot are high because of its popularity with visitors. This will not only have a detrimental effect on public health in the city – our unique local economy has not had the level of support it needs from Government and with many traders and businesses near collapse we cannot risk a second wave in Brighton and Hove.

 Without effective tracking and tracing or the availability of postcode level data about infections, there is a very real risk of not being able to effectively contain any new outbreaks should they happen. And whilst pubs and other venues are being advised to keep a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days, it is simply not feasible for the local authority to undertake this task with the numbers visiting the seafront. 

 The four E’s approach adopted by Sussex Police - to engage, explain, encourage and enforce - is something that I welcome and support. However, it’s clear from recent correspondence I’ve been receiving from constituents and traders that anti-social behaviour is a significant problem, and that the scale of it is something that cannot be absorbed by Sussex Police alone.

 Residents are also concerned about social distancing rules being flouted, and that non-compliance of face masks on public transport cannot realistically be enforced due the frequency of non-adherence to these measures, and due to the authorities having to prioritise resources accordingly.

 Brighton and Hove City Council has increased seafront patrols and visibility on Brighton beach, the city’s parks, and central parts of the city, yet things still feel fragile and volatile. Constituents in the shielding category are telling me that they are not able to leave their homes despite measures being eased, as social distancing breaches are commonplace, leaving them feeling vulnerable and at risk away from their homes.

 Moreover, local authorities are struggling financially because of the increased financial burden of the health crisis on their budgets, with Brighton and Hove City Council indicating that by the end of June the impact on their budget will be £31 million, far in excess of the emergency response funding it has received to date. Additional support to better manage our outside spaces is absolutely vital.

In order to increase public confidence about the city's ability to effectively cope with visitor numbers, will the Government provide local authorities in coastal areas known to have high visitor numbers additional resources to address the increased pressures they face safely managing popular outside spaces? 

 In addition to this, will the Government provide enhanced funding for local public health services in coastal destinations with large visitor numbers, so they can increase their local tracking and tracing capacity. Better resourcing is key to being able to contain any local outbreak, especially given the challenge that the large number of seafront gatherings presents for recording data?

 Will the Government also commit to providing local authorities with real-time information about Covid-19 positive cases, including postcode data swiftly upon confirmation of confirmed cases? My understanding is that this is not happening, with many local authorities not being able to access vital information such as street or postcode details. It is vital that Directors of Public Health are provided with accurate, and specific, details about positive cases so that a quick local response can be put into action to contain any outbreaks identified. 

 I acknowledge the extremely difficult challenge involved in balancing the easing lockdown measures with opening up the economy. Protecting public health does still need to underpin decision-making though, and I do not feel that the government has sufficiently addressed the pressures that coastal destinations face, or the additional challenges this presents for local authorities if local outbreaks do occur.

Yours sincerely,

 

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