Sidmouth councillor calls for new controls on noisy beach parties

Stuart Hughes. Ref shs 22 18TI 4996. Picture: Terry Ife

Stuart Hughes. Ref shs 22 18TI 4996. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Large gatherings on Sidmouth’s Clifton beach have prompted a local councillor to call for new byelaws clamping down on antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Stuart Hughes, who represents Sidmouth on the district and county councils, said he has received several complaints from local residents who have been ‘appalled’ by the behaviour of large groups of young people on the beach during the recent heatwave.

But a local youth leader has defended local teenagers, saying many are acting responsibly and respecting social distancing.

Cllr Hughes said up to 100 people have been gathering on the beach, using small portable barbecues, lighting fires, drinking alcohol and playing loud music.

He said: “The complaints I’ve received have expressed concerns over the behaviour and foul language from some of those gathered on the beach.

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“They have also been lining empty bottles up and throwing stones, smashing them, which is a potential hazard for children and other beach users.

“I contacted (Devon and Cornwall’s Police and Crime Commissioner) Alison Hernandez and asked if the police could keep a watchful eye on what’s happening; however, I know they are stretched, especially with lockdown being relaxed.

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“I am therefore asking East Devon District Council to see if byelaws can be fast-tracked to prevent drinking and the use of loud beat-box radios, along with a dedicated area being introduced for barbecues.

“As we come out of lockdown, it’s important we do everything we can to kick-start the local economy, and with hotels reopening later this week we need to show Sidmouth in its best light.

“Unfortunately, this type of recent behaviour does nothing for our image.”

Some residents have said people of all ages have been taking part in beach gatherings, not only the young.

And Sidmouth youth leader Emily Sethi said it would be wrong to imply that all young people are irresponsible.

She said: “I‘d say that many young people are keeping to the guidelines and are certainly doing their best to keep spaced out.

“We know of young people that are making sure they carry hand gel with them wherever they go, and a group that has taken up football so that they can spend time together but keep their distance.

“We’ve also seen young people taking extra care and responsibility over their community, one individual spending considerable amount of time cleaning and tidying up around the youth centre.

“Like for all of us, it’s really challenging for young people as the restrictions start to relax a little and for them to know exactly what they can do.

“Lots of young people are really struggling with the loneliness and isolation that lockdown has brought and others are increasingly anxious about returning to school. “They’ve missed important occasions- birthdays, finishing school, completing exams and celebrating - and they are understandably, terribly missing time with their social groups, what adolescence is all about after all.

“So some are getting together more, but we see lots of them also still keeping their distance and above all trying their best.”

East Devon District Council said a multi-agency meeting was being held to discuss the issues of ‘substantial littering, drinking, noise and people ignoring social distancing advice’ on local beaches.

A spokesman said: “The proposal to introduce specific bylaws to help reduce these problems would require an increase in police presence to control and administer, and currently we are not convinced this is the appropriate tool for an occasional gathering of people at most of East Devon’s beaches.

“We are therefore considering a review of our information messages through the press and social media and possible enforcement options to help keep our beaches and seafronts the pleasurable and enjoyable locations to visit for this summer.”

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