'Act responsibly or we close the park'

A surge in the number of people visiting Mote Park has led to very real fears the police could now shut the 450-acre site down, with playtime banned. Maidstone council revealed that last weekend there were up to 300 people in the play park at one point, when the maximum capacity for safe social distancing is between 80 and 100.

A Covid marshall and PCSO patrolling Mote Park Picture: MBC (45708751) A Covid marshall and PCSO patrolling Mote Park Picture: MBC (45708751)

This was just days before lockdown restrictions were eased slightly, allowing two households, or groups of up to six, to meet. Alan Frith, the park manager for Mote Park, fears overcrowding could either lead to police intervening – or the council having to shut the play park.

Now as Mr Frith and his team brace themselves for a predicted 7,000 visitors this Easter weekend, he is urging people only to meet up in groups allowed within Covid laws and to make the most of the huge space, rather than congregating in and around the play area.

Mr Frith said: “We are coming out of lockdown and everyone is seeing this as the end and adherence to social distancing is certainly not what it was in the earlier stages of the pandemic. “There are pinch points in the park, we would encourage people not to meet up in groups in these areas.

A group gathering in Mote Park on Sunday, March 28 A group gathering in Mote Park on Sunday, March 28

“We want people to enjoy the whole park, there are loads of areas people tend not to go to, they tend to go to the area where the play park is.” Groups also not adhering to the current guidelines have also been seen and spoken to by Covid marshals.

To address the problems, more Covid marshal will be bought in, to encourage people to adhere to social distancing measures and disperse groups if necessary. The number of extra marshals is not yet known.

Two PCSOs, who have been in the park for the past week, will be on duty every day during the Easter holidays. However, the council says it may have to take action to restrict numbers on the play area, and close it, if it comes to that.

‘We may need to consider restrictions on the play area…’

Mr Frith said: “We may need to consider restrictions on the play area, that might be restricting numbers, it might be closing the area.

“I think it’s got to be managed as we move forward and we need to watch and react. “We certainly don’t want to stop anybody from using the park, we just want to manage it in a safe way.” “We do know other venues and other parks have been shut down by the police because of overcrowding.

We have got to do what we need to do and take action to protect people and protect the park.” The past three Sundays have also seen groups of about 10-15 anti lockdown protestors in Mote Park apparently near the play area, with the police called each time. Mr Frith said: “It just baffles me as to why they have chosen to have a protest outside a play area.”

Long queues for ice cream formed on Chipstead Common in Sevenoaks as lockdown restrictions are eased (45685191) Long queues for ice cream formed on Chipstead Common in Sevenoaks as lockdown restrictions are eased (45685191)

Meanwhile, in Sevenoaks, people have been urged to keep following social distancing rules after a long queues for an ice cream van formed during this week’s sunny weather.

Families flocked to Chipstead Common in Riverhead and joined the line which stretched across the green in Witches Lane. With highs of 21C in the town and the easing of lockdown to allow people to socialise outside, there was little surprise that people were out enjoying the sunshine. However one resident who noticed the long queue expressed concern that people may be letting their guard down, saying: “Parents and kids from nearby schools were queuing for the ice cream truck.

No social distancing. Madness.” Cllr Cameron Brown QC, ward member for Dunton Green and Riverhead, expressed understanding at people’s desire to emerge from lockdown, but he cautioned against complacency in the fight against the coronavirus.

“People do want to get out and about,” he said. “It’s a feeling of relief to get out and see family again. “But the whole country has not been vaccinated and we would urge caution until a lot more people have been vaccinated, follow the rules that are there for a reason. “Local businesses need to get going again and people want to be out and about, but the virus has not gone away.

It still wants to spread as much as it can.” On Monday the Prime Minister urged people to remain cautious as the relaxation of lockdown measures coincided with balmy weather across much of the country. Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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