Preston 'recommended' for Tier 3 Covid rules as part of suggestion Lancashire should be split up by district
Lancashire is to recommend to the government that Preston and the five districts in the east of the county are all placed into Tier 3 Covid restrictions when the national lockdown ends on 2nd December.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the decision was taken without a formal vote at a meeting of Lancashire district and county leaders this morning, after a discussion between politicians and local public health bosses. The standalone authorities in Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool were not involved in the discussion.
The government is set to announce tomorrow which parts of England will go into which of the newly-revised tiers, with a final decision expected to be reached tonight at a high-level meeting of a group known as “Covid O”.
Unlike last month, when the tiering system was first introduced, there will be no direct negotiations between the government and local leaders about the restrictions that will apply in each area.
However, it is understood that Lancashire will offer its own suggestion nevertheless, based on an assessment of current infection rates.
Preston, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Rossendale and Pendle all had Covid case rates above the England average in the week to 21st November. The county has suggested that all other boroughs - includign Chorley, South Ribble, Wyre and Ribble Valley - are fit for Tier 2.
Lancashire as a whole was placed into Tier 3 on 17th October after a week of protracted discussions between council leaders and government officials.
However, it is unknown as yet whether the government will impose the new tiers at a district level or across the entire county.
Residents in any areas emerging into Tier 3 would continue to be unable to mix between households - except for support bubbles - in all indoor and most outdoor settings. The rule of six would apply in parks and at beaches, a looser restriction than under the current national lockdown.
Pubs and restaurants would remain closed and be able to offer a takeaway service only, but non-essential retail would reopen.
Any districts entering Tier 2 would also be barred from household mixing in all indoor settings, although gathering in private gardens and public open spaces would be permitted, up to a maximum of six people.
Restaurants and cafes could reopen, along with pubs serving a substantial meal.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown only this morning called for the area to be placed into Tier 2.
Out of the six Lancashire districts now being recommended for Tier 3, Preston is closest to the England average, with 266.9 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 21st November, compared to 230.3 nationally. The rate in the city has fallen for 11 consecutive days.
Cllr Brown told the LDRS that if a recommendation is made to the government for Preston to enter Tier 3, it was not one that he agreed to - or with.
“Apart from non-essential shops, it means the lockdown would continue for Preston - and I just think that is disproportionate at this moment.
"The tiering will be reassessed every two weeks, so if the situation [with case numbers] changed, it could be reviewed very quickly.
“The main thing is to make sure people are protected health-wise, that is our priority - but you have got to find the balance.
“I think we need to look at more protection within schools, possibly around children wearing masks and teachers wearing visors - there are some schools that have done that with success.
“I feel that doing things like that would be more effective in tackling where the infections really are, rather than shutting down the hospitality sector, which is pretty well behaved and compliant.
“We need to make sure we do have an economy to inherit when we get out of this,” Cllr Brown added.
Hyndburn Council leader Miles Parkinson said he fully expected the east of the county - and maybe the whole of Lancashire - to end up in Tier 3.
“In an ideal world, of course I'd like to see more of our economy opening back up. But we have had major outbreaks at certain establishments in Hyndburn and that has given our [case rate] figures a blip.
"I’d hope that our cases start to go down quickly if we are put into Tier 3 and then the situation can be reviewed after a fortnight,” Cllr Parkinson said.
There have been mixed signals from the government about whether a district-by-district approach will be taken to the imposition of the new tiers.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has suggested that "granular detail" may be a consideration, but the Prime Minister said in the Commons earlier this week that the tiers would have to be "sensible and large enough".
Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver said that the final decision “will, of course, be made by the government". However, he added that there was clear rationale behind Lancashire’s own proposal.
"Lancashire leaders recognise the fine balance between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods, but it is clear from the epidemiology that the western half of the county is now in a much better position following the current restrictions.
“This does not mean that people should be complacent because the fewer restrictions in Tier 2 present a real danger of the infection rates rising again if people do not follow the basic guidance to keep themselves, their family and their communities safe," County Cllr Driver said.