Beach Gardens in Exmouth is one of the parks that is being reopened

Some small sites with restricted access/egress points will remain closed in order to support Government’s social distancing guidance

Councillors at East Devon District Council have reviewed their decision to close parks and gardens at the commencement of lockdown and have agreed that the majority of the district’s large or easy to access park sites should be reopened to the public, as soon as possible.

The council decided to close parks to help people abide by social distancing measures and because of a reduced workforce - a decision that was balanced by the fact that East Devon is a rural district with good access to the countryside and open spaces.

The Government’s advice for reasons on leaving your home has not changed and remains as follows:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
  • Do not meet others, even friends or family.
  • You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

The Government’s advice for reasons on leaving your home has not changed and remains as follows:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
  • Do not meet others, even friends or family.
  • You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

East Devon’s beaches and nature reserves have remained open throughout the lockdown.

There are, however, still some sites which are quite small, enclosed and with narrow access ways, poor sight lines or restricted access points. The council feels it will be difficult for the public to maintain robust social distancing in these sites, and so as not to increase the risk of viral transmission, the following sites are to remain closed:

• 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

East Devon District Council’s announcement follows a statement made by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on Saturday 18 April, who said:

People need parks. That’s why I have made it clear to councils that all parks must remain open.

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.

Councillor Geoff Jung, East Devon’s Portfolio for the Environment, said:

We believe we can safely re-open 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 re-open these sites by removing barriers and closure signage starting Thursday 23 April - 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.

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

For further guidance from Devon and Cornwall Police, please read their useful COVID-19 FAQs.