Visitor numbers to south coast set to be 'worse' than last year post-lockdown

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Richard Slee:

The number of visitors heading to Dorset's coastline is expected to be "worse" than last year when lockdown eases, according to the county's Chief Constable.

It comes after scores of people hit the south coast during the warmer months in 2020, prompting a major incident to be declared by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council.

There were reports of anti-social behaviour, congested  roads, illegal parking and council staff being attacked.

Chief Constable James Vaughan said: "I think it's going to be worse this year. As the lockdown eases, as the weather improves, and with there being such a long period of lockdown, we're fully expecting people to travel into the county and positively exploit the fantastic scenery and beauty spots that we have to offer here; but we have to plan carefully."

He says the force, along with BCP Council and other local authorities, are increasing traffic management arrangements, police patrols and cracking down on illegal parking.

This time the authorities say they will be better prepared than last year as huge numbers are expected to visit the county's attractions. 

Cllr Mohan Iyengar at BCP Council says: "We were taken by surprise. It was unpleasant for residents and our businesses suffered as well even though there were numbers.

"This time we have much more detailed plans in place. We want people to come. We've got plans which we will announce shortly to keep people safe and to keep the resort orderly as well." when coronavirus restrictions are eventually eased."

With people "less inclined to travel internationally" authorities are now prepared for a very busy high season.

The message from Dorset Police is to stay local and 'explore from your door'.

Dorset Police officers on patrol Credit: ITV News Meridian

Chief Constable James Vaughan added: "We know people love to visit Dorset, but trips here will have to wait and we are encouraging people to stay local and explore from their door.

"Disappointingly we have still seen people travelling for over 100 miles to visit our beauty spots. Travelling to stay in second homes or other rentals is also not allowed at this time." 

Recent breaches of lockdown rules included people travelling from London to surf off the Dorset coast, and five people were fined after driving from Leicester to Lulworth to look at the coastline.

Councillor Nicola Greene at BCP Council said: “We know families are facing a challenge as they look ahead to half term and think about how to keep everyone entertained. However, COVID-19 is still very much a real threat in our communities so it’s vital people stick to the rules and stay at home.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole when it’s safe to do so but for now, please play your part in helping to stop the spread of this deadly virus and if you do head out for exercise, stay local.”

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson told the nation to be "a little bit more patient" with making holiday plans this year, adding it is "just too early" for people to be certain about what they can do this summer.

The prime minister said he hopes to say more about what restrictions will be in the summer when he sets out a route out of lockdown, which is expected to come on February 22.