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Council tells holidaymakers to stay away

Thursday, April 9th, 2020 7:19am

By Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Spot checks and fines demanded

Devon County Council has sent an all-party message to holidaymakers and second home owners: Stay away from the South West during the current crisis.

While the South West is so far the least hit region of the country in terms of coronavirus cases and Devon’s hospitals are only half full, councillors from across the political spectrum were united in their desire to send a clear message that Devon and the South West are closed.

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, told Wednesday morning’s cabinet meeting he was planning to meet the leaders and chief executives of all Devon’s district councils to discuss co-ordinated enforcement action against holiday providers who continue to take bookings.

And the cabinet agreed that there should be much tougher penalties to be imposed on people who flout the rules.

Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr Hart said: “As we head to Easter, we want to send a very clear message to holidaymakers and second home owners – Devon and the South West are closed. We will welcome you with open arms when this is all over but right now please stay away.

“We currently have low coronavirus infection rates in the South West but, if you come here, you stand a chance of bringing it with you and we do not want it under any circumstances.

“We want the message to go out loud and clear and we want our MPs to stop those organisations which are still advertising holidays here.”

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the opposition Labour group, added: “It’s highly damaging and irresponsible for people to be coming to the South West to holiday accommodation or second homes and we want more police spot checks on our borders.

“We have a lot of elderly people here who are most susceptible. We are at the bottom of the regional tables for coronavirus infection and we want it to stay that way.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Alan Connett said: “We want people to come here when this is all over but for now the message is clear: stay home and stay safe.”

Independent group leader Cllr Frank Biederman said: “We need the Government to introduce huge fines for people who flout the regulations and we really need to emphasise that we are closed. The NHS can’t care for visitors as well as our own residents.

“The vast majority of our tourism businesses are closed and are taking a big financial hit for the benefit of the community but we need to crack down on those who refuse to do so.”

He added that any business who were still allowing holidaymakers to make bookings were a ‘disgrace’.

The council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, Cllr Rufus Gilbert, said that Trading Standards had done a test with Bookings.com and sampled 25 per cent of businesses on their website and phoned them, and all of them said they were not accepting booking.

But he added: “With Airbnb, we have had no such assurances. We have written to them but are not expecting a reply. We will do everything that we can, but just because some businesses are advertising online, it doesn’t mean that they are taking bookings.”

Cllr Paul Crabb though said he had gone onto the Airbnb and would have been able to book a detached villa for 13 guests in Ilfracombe for next week, which showed that not everyone was obeying the rules.

The district councils have the responsibility to close down any businesses that are open illegally.

It comes as the leaders of both South Hams and West Devon councils have written an open letter pleading with second home owners not to visit this Easter.

The open letter, written by Cllr Judy Pearce and Cllr Neil Jory, has the support of Cornwall Council, East Devon District Council, Mid Devon District Council, North Devon District Council, Teignbridge District Council and Torridge District Council.

It explains that while they value their contribution they make to local communities and the tourism economy, they are pleading with them to stay away as by travelling to their second home, they are putting the local population at risk.

As of Wednesday morning, across the Devon County Council administrative area, there had only been 236 cases positive COVID-19 cases, with a further 57 in Torbay and 102 in Plymouth. In total, 53 people in Devon have died in hospitals with coronavirus.

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