Re-opening Keswick’s two biggest car parks ahead of an expected mass return of visitors this weekend will put local lives at risk, it is being warned.
Around 400 people have already died from coronavirus in Cumbria, which surprisingly has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the UK.
Most visitors have followed official advice and stayed away from the Lake District since lockdown on 23rd March but travel restrictions were eased in England on Wednesday, sparking fears that with good weather forecast, large numbers will return this weekend to break out of eight weeks at home.
It prompted Allerdale Borough Council to decide this week to re-open its Central and Lakeside car parks – with 334 and 253 spaces respectively – in time for this weekend. Unlike its smaller car parks at Bell Close and Otley Road, both have been closed during lockdown.
However, the decision by Allerdale’s small group of executive councillors and officials was strongly opposed by Keswick’s three representatives on the Workington-based authority. Labour pair Cllr Markus Campbell-Savours and Cllr Sally Lansbury were backed by Conservative Cllr Allan Daniels in condemning the move after holding online talks with the council on Wednesday.
They argued that it posed a threat to health by potentially spreading coronavirus and that most shops and all pubs and restaurants remained closed in Keswick, with even the town’s only public toilets at the Bell Close and Lakeside car parks remaining shut. Keswick mayor Cllr David Burn and the town’s county councillor Tony Lywood say they are now prepared to put up big signs at the major roads into Keswick stating “Please do not come to our town” and that it is closed to visitors with no facilities open.
Tory Cllr Daniels went against Conservative/Independent-run Allerdale council over the issue and criticised his own party’s government stance over easing travel. “Re-opening the two remaining car parks in Keswick is a ridiculous idea. We don’t want people coming here to exercise and walking through our town. We have a very old population and people are very scared about what is going on. If you think back to that first weekend of lockdown, we were inundated with visitors and second home owners going to Booths and clearing shelves of everything they could find.”
Cllr Campbell-Savours added: “The people of Keswick don’t want visitors coming at this time. Keeping the car parks closed sends a signal that Keswick is not ready for visitors. Opening the car parks does the complete opposite. Our party (Labour) does not run the council but we will continue to argue this case and push the message that now is not the time to visit Keswick.”
Cllr Lywood went further, saying: “Re-opening the two biggest car parks in Keswick is grossly premature and sends an unfortunate message to people living outside Cumbria that they are welcome to come and visit, which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to say at this point in time. It also represents a very real threat to local peoples’ lives by raising the chances of bringing coronavirus to our town and spreading it, with terrible consequences.”
The Keswick Reminder is waiting for a response from Allerdale Borough Council.
It is understood that the Lake District National Park Authority and National Trust are also planning to re-open their car parks this weekend, mostly in rural settings such as Borrowdale and the Newlands Valley, and that United Utilities is re-opening the car parks at its reservoir and recreational sites including at Thirlmere. However, Cumbrian authorities are still saying that now is not the time for people to come to the Lake District as they fear a flood of visitors could put communities and emergency workers at unnecessary risk.
Andy Slattery, Cumbria’s assistant chief constable, also chairs the county’s local resilience forum. He said: “We know people love the Lakes and when the time is right we will of course warmly welcome back visitors. But now is not the right time. Cumbria has been one of the worst affected parts of the UK and coronavirus is far from over. We still have people being infected and people dying in the county on a daily basis. People coming into the county from elsewhere just makes the job of containing and controlling the outbreak more difficult.”
Keswick’s Conservative MP Trudy Harrison echoed that, saying: “When considering a journey to Cumbria, please understand that the Cumbria and Lake District you know and love is not open for business at the moment. Please remember that this is our home. This is where we are looking after our most vulnerable people, where we’re taking care of our elderly parents and grandparents with limited medical facilities.”