Are out-of-town visitors flouting lockdown by coming into Stratford-upon-Avon?
(Story published in current Herald, so weekend of 27th/28th is referred to.)
‘We love you normally but please go away’, was tourist town Stratford’s message to the outside world after a busy sunny weekend.
For weeks worried locals have reported their alarm over the seeming escalation of visitors to the area. Many have voiced their frustration to the Herald, saying that out-of-town day-trippers are descending on the town unchecked, flouting Covid rules and undermining their own efforts to follow guidelines.
After more pleasure-seekers were spotted enjoying the recreation ground and Bancroft areas on Sunday when temperatures were mild and the sun was out, people’s unease turned into a call to action.
Responding to the story on the Herald’s Facebook page, Stratford mum Nikki Louise complained the number of visitors was “unbelievable”, she said: “As a local I feel I can't even walk my kids ten minutes from my home into town because there are so many visitors. There should be someone fining them all, they are very obvious and someone needs to stop them.”
Backing her stance, fellow resident Matt Green said: “The Rec and Bancroft Gardens were heaving with people who have blatantly broken the law and travelled into town. Police should have been down there sending them packing with a fine. They could have had a field day.”
Police confirmed that they had observed that Stratford was busier and urged people to do their bit to keep the coronavirus rates going down.
Stratford inspector Ben Hembry said: “With the nice weather we did see an increase in people out and about in Stratford over the weekend. We continue to remind people that Covid is still prevalent in the community and of the importance of staying at home. People should only be leaving their homes if they have a reasonable excuse.”
The latest coronavirus stats for the Stratford district show that the rates are steadily declining. For the seven days ending 26th February, there were 92 new cases – an infection rate of 70 per 100,000 people. The week before there were 118 new cases recorded and a rate of 90 per 100,000 people. At the beginning of the third lockdown, the rates were much higher – 452 new cases recorded in the seven days up until 8th January – an infection rate pf 347 per 100,000 people.
Urging the public not to be complacent at this point in the battle against coronavirus, Insp Hembry continued: “Most people will no doubt now be aware of the government’s plans to lift the national lockdown over the coming months and it looks as though there is light at the end of the tunnel. But the virus still poses a significant threat and it is important we all continue to follow the rules.
“The vast majority of people in Stratford are following the rules and we thank them for that and urge them to keep going.”
In response to complaints about the lack of police visibility in Stratford, Insp Hembry said: “The safer neighbourhood team continues to maintain a presence in the town and we are continuing to engage with people, explaining the risk posed by Covid and encouraging them to follow the rules. Where there are clear and deliberate breaches of the rules we will issue fines as was seen over the weekend when we issued eight in the town.”
In addition to 15 Covid-related reports linked to Stratford at the weekend, the fines issued were as follows:
Friday, Pampas Close, Stratford
Report of a house gathering, police attend two people reported for fines.
Friday, 7.52pm, Stratford Recreation Ground
Two people from different households had travelled from Coventry and were found sitting in their car eating a McDonald’s.
Saturday, 7.38pm, Swans Nest Lane, Stratford
While out on patrol, officers came across two parked vehicles with six people inside from Birmingham and Worcestershire, all from different households. All six reported for fines.
Despite the protestations over the apparent influx of visitors driving into town, Stratford District Council said there was no hard evidence that the town was experiencing large scale flouting of rules.
Cllr Ian Shenton, operations portfolio holder, said: “There is no way of telling where people are coming from that park in our car parks or other car parks in Stratford town centre – we just don’t have that evidence.
“As we are currently in lockdown the trend in vehicle numbers, whilst low is upwards compared to January. The average weekly number of vehicles in January was 3,265 whilst in February it was 5,085, an increase of 56 per cent, but less than a third of last year’s level.
“Last week we had 6,771 vehicles, the highest since December but it is still only 47 per cent of last year’s level.
“To put this into perspective, the District Council provides eight car parks in Stratford town centre with more than 2,800 parking spaces which our figures relates to. Obviously there are other car parks on on-street parking spaces that aren’t accounted for.”
Not everyone who was in town on Saturday thought that the town looked overly busy and many said that those gathered on the Rec and elsewhere appeared to be following social distancing measures. Putting out a plea for tolerance, Stratford couple Brian and Annette Quelch commented on the Herald’s Facebook post: “You can’t blame people wanting to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air after being cooped in for months. We all need a break and obviously the area is going to attract people. Be kind, overall we are all trying to do our best.”