Colin Brazier: Staycations aren't all good for Britain's resorts

Lockdown has meant that from Bournemouth to Blackpool, Britain’s coastal waters are popular as never before

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The British weather hasn’t lost its sense of humour. After a forgettable summer, and just as furlough ends and the school term starts, we find ourselves wrapped in the sweltering embrace of a September heatwave.

Nonetheless, many of us have already enjoyed a British beach holiday this year, as befits an island nation with 20,000 miles of coastline. But for all we’re blessed with hundreds of miles of beaches, there are pinch-points.

Lockdown has meant that from Bournemouth to Blackpool, Britain’s coastal waters are popular as never before. And that creates traffic. Not just on the roads leading to the sea – but in the sea itself. And where you get traffic, you get accidents. In the last year four deaths have been linked to jet-skis.

Police officers patrol the promenade as people enjoy the warm weather on Bournemouth Beach in Dorset. Picture date: Monday September 6, 2021.
Police officers patrol the promenade as people enjoy the warm weather on Bournemouth Beach in Dorset. Picture date: Monday September 6, 2021.

Swimmers and these motorbikes-of-the sea do not always mix well. Last month, for instance, riders were filmed terrorizing swimmers in south wales, with children among those narrowly missed.

In Essex, things have got so bad that police have launched sea patrols to clamp-down on what the force describes as “inconsiderate and antisocial behaviour” by jet-ski users. Drink often plays a part. It seems that the government’s seen enough.

Jet-ski and speedboat users who behave badly will now face up to two years in jail under new rules designed to stop the minority of users whose recklessness taints the rest. The changes will close a legal loophole that allows jet-skis and other recreational craft to evade the law that applies to ships under the 1995 Maritime Shipping Act.

I asked for some of your jet-ski thoughts on Twitter. The noise bothers some people, especially on inland waters like lakes and lochs, as well as the impact on wildlife. One of my Twitter followers, Paul Pitman, said jet-skis were equivalent to allowing racing cars into a playground. But there were others, like Andrew Coughlan, who pointed out that hiring a jet-ski had been a recent and unforgettable holiday highlight.

Clearly, the government must strike a balance. It’s first instinct must be to ban or regulate only when strictly necessary, while also preventing harm. And all while maintaining a sense of perspective. Four deaths involving jet skis is a tragedy, but a fraction of the 350 British motorbike fatalities we see every year.

But there’s another bigger point I’d make. A healthy society shouldn’t always rely on the state to regulate behaviour. It’s much better, and more cheaply done, by others. There are other interested parties – or to use that ugly word ‘stakeholders’ – here. The first is the vendor.

As we’ve seen with e-scooters, retailers are not doing enough to ensure that the vehicles they sell are not going to be used illegally. Eventually, this will come back and bite them by the way. Could the businesses which sell, lend and lease jet-skis and speed-boats do more to weed out the foolhardy? Perhaps. The second is the user him or herself.

I admit to having a quixotic belief in the ability of Britons to organize themselves into associations, clubs, and nowadays online communities – doing away with, or reducing at least, the need for state intervention. The great Anglo-Irish conservative philosopher Edmund Burke famously identified this instinct as one which meant Britain thrived through the work of its ‘little platoons’.

People enjoy the weather on Bournemouth beach in Dorset. England could see the hottest day of the year this weekend as the skies finally clear after weeks of wet and humid weather. Picture date: Saturday July 17, 2021.
People enjoy the weather on Bournemouth beach in Dorset. England could see the hottest day of the year this weekend as the skies finally clear after weeks of wet and humid weather. Picture date: Saturday July 17, 2021.

I thought about Burke’s ideas the other day when I looked down a bridleway meant for horses, but now made impassable for them by motorcycle trail bikes. It’s another example of a country where lockdown is putting different recreational groups in competition for scarce resources, in this case a nice ride in the countryside.

The bikes had carved out ruts that made it impossible for horses to canter without injuring themselves. The police could intervene, but do we really need them to get involved in this sort of thing. What if the trail bike riders had avoided creating a rut, or if that was impossible, organising for a tractor to roll the ground flat a couple of times a year.

The law should be there to stop dangerous behaviour. To stop lunatics on jet-skis circling swimmers, e-scooters riding on dual-carriageways, and motorcycle trail bikes colliding with walkers on footpaths meant only for pedestrians.

But there’s a lot of anti-social behaviour that stops short of physical harm and where we, not the government, can make a difference.