‘Majority’ of East Devon parks to reopen – but some sites in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton and Seaton will remain off-limits

District council bosses are to reopen the ‘majority’ of East Devon parks – but some green spaces in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton and Seaton will stay shut.

All play areas, skate parks and outdoor gym equipment will also remain off-limits as part of coronavirus lockdown and social distancing rules.

Residents have been urged to ‘use common sense’ in the now-accessible beauty spots or they will be made out-of-bounds again.

Beaches and nature reserves have so far avoided restrictions throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) said today it will reopen its ‘large or easy-to-access’ parks to the public as soon as possible.

But  green areas deemed ‘quite small’ with ‘enclosed and with narrow access ways, poor sight lines or restricted access points’ will remain shut.

The spaces that will stay closed – ‘so as not to increase the risk of viral transmission’ – are:

  • Manor Gardens – Exmouth;
  • Gunfield Gardens – Exmouth;
  • Queens Drive Space – Exmouth;
  • The Glen – Honiton;
  • Connaught Gardens – Sidmouth;
  • Blackmore Gardens – Sidmouth;
  • Seafield Gardens – Seaton;
  • All play areas;
  • Outdoor gym equipment;
  • All skate parks.

“The council feels it will be difficult for the public to maintain robust social distancing in these sites,” said an EDDC spokesperson.

“While the Government has been clear verbally, nothing as yet has been translated into written guidance.

“Other local authorities are choosing to do what is best for their area, and some are keeping all parks and gardens sites closed.”

Phear Park in Exmouth.

Phear Park in Exmouth.

Councillor Geoff Jung, EDDC portfolio for the environment, said: “We believe we can safely reopen large parks sites, such as Phear Park in Exmouth, with access points, open borders or space that allow people to easily use the site for exercise while maintaining social distancing.

“We will reopen these sites by removing barriers and closure signage starting Thursday, April 23 – it will take us a couple of days to complete this.

“This will mean that the majority of our parks will be open, giving residents ample green spaces within which to exercise responsibly.

“Social distancing signs will remain in place and we will remind the public to observe these measures.

“If people do not observe social distancing or congregate in our parks, we may be forced to close them all again.

“So we are putting our trust in our public and asking them to use common sense, follow the two metre social distancing recommendations and generally take responsibility for staying safe.

“Due to restrictions in East Devon staffing levels, resulting from the virus lockdown, the council will not be able to maintain the parks and gardens to the same high standards as they were before closure.

“However, from a positive environmental perspective, East Devon has already started a programme of actively re-wilding areas, encouraging biodiversity and wildflowers and cutting grass less frequently and this will continue.

“Those using the parks for exercise can expect to see meadow length grass with access paths cut through it as a more prominent feature.

“The council will only be able to conduct visual walkover inspections of its sites as staff are focussed on maintaining core operations services, self-isolating or restricted from travelling due to health reasons.”

The move comes after the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said on Saturday (April 18): “People need parks. That’s why I have made it clear to councils that all parks must remain open.”

Further guidance on what people should do when accessing East Devon’s parks can be found here.

Statistics show 20 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded in East Devon and Exeter

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