Lulworth Estate says it’s powerless to close Durdle Door

Following last weekend’s anti-social and reckless behavior on the overcrowded beach at Durdle Door, the Lulworth Estate’s owner, James Weld says he has no power or authority to close the beaches at Lulworth, including Durdle Door, because the public has a legal right to access.

Dorset Council also says that it has only limited powers but has done everything it can to respond to the situation.

Last Saturday evening, it issued road closure notices to try and stop people driving to Durdle Door but hundreds ignored the signs and went to the beach anyway.

Written a letter to the Prime Minister

The Leader of Dorset Council, Councillor Spencer Flower, in his frustration at the events over the weekend, has now written a letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and to all Dorset MPs expressing his disappointment at the lack of communication from the government ahead of the easing of travel restrictions.

He’s now asking the government to review its position and require people to ‘stay local’.

Durdle Door closed sign
Poole Police

On Sunday, people ignored Dorset Council’s road closures despite the police presence

Lulworth Estate:”Travelling should have been limited to local journeys only”

James Weld, owner of the Lulworth Estate has also said that the government’s easing of coronavirus travel restrictions should have limited day trips to the local area. He said:

“It is clear that the restriction on travelling should have been limited to local journeys only which would not have resulted in the huge pressures being suddenly foisted on local road networks and on sites such as Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. Unrestricted travel has undoubtedly led to the unacceptable influx of visitors, despite the enormously damaging effects of restrictions on the economy and on jobs.”

He also answered the criticism levelled at him that the Lulworth Estate failed to close the beach because of the revenue raised by opening the car parks. He said:

“Natural England and the Dorset Council are responsible for the public right of access to the beaches and cliffs. The Lulworth Estate has no power or authority to close the beaches at Lulworth, including Durdle Door beach; everyone has a legal right of access to our coastline and beaches following the Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009.”
He added:

“The opening of the car parks at Lulworth did not attract visitors, these were opened to relieve the pressure on the local road network…”

Dorset Council’s plea to the government

The Leader of Dorset Council, Councillor Spencer Flower in his letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:

“The incidents at Durdle Door on Saturday placed a huge strain on our emergency services. There have also been issues in other areas over the weekend with excessive numbers of visitors and people therefore not able to observe social distancing.

“We’ve seen littering, people urinating and defecating in public, people camping overnight (which is not permitted under current government COVID19 guidelines) and people having dangerous campfires and barbecues – despite extensive warnings against this from all local agencies.

“Council employees have been abused by the members of the public as they tried to manage the traffic.”

The letter goes on to say:

“Ahead of this announcement there was no communication with local councils about how we might manage this influx, including the need for car parking, public toilets and most importantly for beaches, the provision of Lifeguards. I understand that concern was being raised by (government) ministers last week about the lack of lifeguards – surely this is a conversation that should have happened before your announcement?”

Councillor Spencer Flower concludes:

“My plea to the government is to review the travel advice currently in place and instead ask people to “stay local”. I am concerned that we will see a second wave of infection here in Dorset as a result of the high number of visitors to the area over recent days. I’m asking the government to act now to save the lives of Dorset residents. Please help us to help them by issuing a revised guidance telling people to stay local for the time being.”

Full statement from the Lulworth Estate 1st June 2020

It is clear that the restriction on travelling should have been limited to local journeys only which would not have resulted in the huge pressures being suddenly foisted on local road networks and on sites such as Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. Unrestricted travel has undoubtedly led to the unacceptable influx of visitors, despite the enormously damaging effects of restrictions on the economy and on jobs.

Natural England and the Dorset Council are responsible for the public right of access to the beaches and cliffs. The Lulworth Estate has no power or authority to close the beaches at Lulworth, including Durdle Door beach; everyone has a legal right of access to our coastline and beaches following the Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009.

The Lulworth Estate has no means of preventing people from travelling to Lulworth & Durdle Door, which everyone has been permitted to do since Wednesday 13th May.

The Lulworth Estate maintains signage on all sites advising visitors of the dangers of the sea, cliffs and the use of disposable BBQs, particularly in the current dry conditions.

The Lulworth Estate staffs all sites and where possible attempts to manage access, although we are physically and legally unable to prevent visitors accessing the beaches or climbing cliffs; we advise of the dangers of both including the dangers of Covid-19 and that social distancing is not always possible.

The opening of the car parks at Lulworth did not attract visitors, these were opened to relieve the pressure on the local road network and local community, although the publicity surrounding the opening of the car parks undoubtedly added to the number of visitors.

The Lulworth Estate is not responsible for government policies regarding Covid-19 or the legal access to public highway and public areas; we can only respond to the numbers that arrive and our staff have worked hard to manage this influx and clear up after them with little positive assistance or input from local authorities.

James Weld
The Lulworth Estate

Full text of the letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson from the Leader of Dorset Council, Councillor Spencer Flower 1st June 2020

Dear Prime Minister

As Leader of Dorset Council, I am writing to you to express my serious concern about the
disproportionate and negative impact the Guidance states to “travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance” is having on areas like Dorset which are popular with visitors. Dorset is within a single day’s travelling distance for visitors from London and the Midlands.

Over the past weekend we have seen some extremely disappointing behaviour from visitors to Dorset’s beaches. The incidents at Durdle Door on Saturday 30 May placed a huge strain on our emergency services. There have also been issues in other popular destinations across the county with excessive numbers of visitors not being able to observe social distancing. We’ve seen littering, people urinating and defecating in public, people camping overnight and people having dangerous campfires and barbecues – despite extensive warnings against this from all local agencies. Council employees have been abused by members of the public as they tried to manage the traffic.

I am acutely aware of how worried and upset many Dorset residents feel about the current situation, particularly when so many of them have complied fully with lockdown guidance, particularly, when the Dorset Council area had one of the lowest COVID19 infection rates in the country.

My overriding priority throughout the COVID19 outbreak has been the safety and wellbeing of Dorset residents, and all decision making has been based on this. We at Dorset Council have done everything we can within the limited powers we have, to prepare for and respond to the situation. For several weeks now we’ve been sending out a strong message that potential visitors should ‘think twice’ about coming to Dorset.

However, since you announced on Sunday 10 May that lockdown was to be gradually eased and that people can “travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance” and “you can sit on a beach”, both we and Dorset Police have had very limited powers of enforcement. For example, since the recent guidance came into effect, the Police have no longer been able to challenge road users as to whether their journeys are essential. In other words, we have limited ability to deal with the large visitor numbers and issues like the lack of social distancing and the negative impact on local communities.

Ahead of this announcement there was no communication with local councils about how we might manage this influx, including the need for car parking, public toilets and most importantly for beaches, the provision of Lifeguards. I understand that concern was being raised by Ministers last week about the lack of Lifeguards – surely this is a conversation that should have happened before your announcement?

All our public services are very stretched due to weeks of responding to the COVID19 outbreak and other major incidents such as the wildfire at Wareham Forest. My plea to the government is to review the travel advice currently in place and instead ask people to “stay local”. I am concerned that we will see a second wave of infection here in Dorset as a result of the high number of visitors to the area over recent days. I’m asking the government to act now to save the lives of Dorset residents. Please help us
to help them by issuing a revised guidance telling people to stay local for the time being.

We stand ready and waiting to work with the government but in order to do so, you need to engage far more closely with the local government sector to deliver the results we need for the country at this time.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Spencer Flower
Leader

cc: Richard Drax MP
Michael Tomlinson MP
Simon Hoare MP
Chris Loader MP
Sir Christopher Chope MP

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