Police and council wardens should be taking the addresses of visitors to Saltburn during the latest national lockdown, a local councillor believes.
Cllr Philip Thomson – who has previously been vocal about visitors to the seaside town not adhering to covid-19 guidelines – said there were hundreds of visitors to Saltburn last weekend despite poor weather and the advice to stay local for exercise.
He said: “Residents can see this and are genuinely afraid that the virus will spread more readily in the town with an unacceptable level of visitors being condoned.”
Cllr Thomson, leader of the Conservative group on Redcar and Cleveland Council, said much stricter enforcement of guidance discouraging unnecessary travel was needed.
He said he had contacted the council, police and the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Simon Clarke over the issue, and requested that both police officers and so-called ‘ambassadors’ employed by Redcar and Cleveland Council asked individuals where they lived.
The council’s covid ambassadors were temporarily employed last year to provide advice and guidance to the public, but have no enforcement powers, unlike police who can issue fines.
Cllr Thomson said: “If [individuals] reside outside of Saltburn and they have no valid reason within the lockdown guidelines to be in the town, they should be asked to return forthwith to their town or village.
“Just asking people to keep their distance is no use whatsoever in this current crisis.”
He also said the ambassadors should patrol car parks and if requests for the public’s details went unheeded they should be photographing car registration plates and alerting the police.
However he didn’t wish to see car parks closed, claiming when this happened during previous covid-related restrictions vehicles “simply parked on the pavements causing obstruction and this was condoned by the police”.
Cllr Thomson said he had argued for greater enforcement powers to be given to local councils, who should also be allowed to issue fines.
Home Secretary Priti Patel held a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday night, praising the police response during the pandemic and urging people to “do the right thing” and follow the rules – saying they are “perfectly clear”, despite confusion and rumours of tougher lockdowns to come.
Two women were fined in Derbyshire for exercising in countryside around five miles from their home – although the penalty notice was later rescinded – and Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced questions after being caught cycling seven miles away from his home.
Cllr Thomson drew a distinction between the number of fixed penalty fines being currently issued by police forces and suggested he was doubtful fines were being issued in Saltburn.
Figures show that fines for breach of lockdown regulations from March to December last year numbered 313 in Cleveland, compared to 1,484 in neighbouring North Yorkshire and 3,034 in Northumbria.
Superintendent Emily Harrison, of Cleveland Police, said: “Our officers are doing their absolute best to protect the public and be proportionate in their response, ensuring it is fair and legitimate, however there are limitations of the police role in relation to travelling to exercise.
“We will engage with people, explain the rules, encourage the person to comply, and use enforcement if necessary as a last step.
“We will issue fixed penalty notices if people are being found to have deliberately breached the rules.
“Everyone should follow the regulations and the guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus.
“We all have a collective responsibility to bring the virus under control and people should use their common sense and act responsibly when planning their trips.”
A spokeswoman for the force said covid regulations, as set in law, did not restrict the distance travelled for exercise or the number of times a person could do so.
She said it was only Government guidance which “strongly requests” people do not leave their local area and only exercise once a day.
The spokeswoman added: “Our officers will ask why people are out of their homes and will explain the regulations and encourage people to comply.
“Where people are breaching the regulations in law and are away from home without a reasonable excuse, they may be issued with a fixed penalty notice.
“The list of reasonable excuses is on the Government’s website.
“Our covid patrols continue across Cleveland, including in Redcar and Cleveland, and the large majority of interactions with people are positive and end quickly.”
She said in terms of comparing fines between force areas, larger forces would have more fines since they covered bigger geographic areas with higher populations.
It also did not know what another force’s fines were being issued for in each instance.
Councillor Steve Kay, cabinet member for health, housing and welfare at Redcar and Cleveland Council said: “We are now in an absolutely crucial period with the vast majority of people working hard to contain the virus.
“We urge everyone – in the strongest possible terms – to follow the rules, including exercising as locally as possible.
“Our covid ambassadors in Saltburn, and across the borough, will continue their excellent work with individuals and businesses to encourage and support everyone to follow the guidance.
“They provide useful community intelligence to the council’s health protection team which informs the policy of the council – however they do not have enforcement powers.
“Their main role is to encourage and advise.
“Both they and our other community officer report that most people accept their advice in the spirit it is intended, as we all work together to fight the spread of this terrible virus.”