Preston, Chorley, Wyre and Ribble Valley's leaders reveal their hopes for the new Covid tiers to be announced this week

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The leader of Preston City Council says that there are “positives” to be found in the current trajectory of the pandemic - but the way the government plans to introduce new, post-lockdown restrictions is not among them.

Matthew Brown was one of several Lancashire Labour district leaders who was highly critical of the week-long negotiations that led up to the county being placed in Tier 3 last month.

He said at the time that the city had been threatened with becoming “an island” - and receiving less by way of financial help than other parts of Lancashire if it continued to hold out for a better settlement.

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Cllr Brown believes that the stance of leaders like him may have influenced the government's decision not to enter into discussions with local areas about which of the revised tiers they will be placed into on Thursday.

District leaders in Preston, Chorley, Wyre and Ribble Valley have laid out their hopes for the new tiering systemDistrict leaders in Preston, Chorley, Wyre and Ribble Valley have laid out their hopes for the new tiering system
District leaders in Preston, Chorley, Wyre and Ribble Valley have laid out their hopes for the new tiering system

“Case rates are coming down - which is testimony to the whole community - while there are glimmers of hope with the vaccine and, finally, the testing infrastructure does seem to be improving.

“But it is pretty shambolic that the government said they wanted to have a genuine discussion with council leaders about what’s good for our communities - and yet now it’s going to be imposed centrally.

“I think because a lot of us stuck up for ourselves, the government might just think they will cut us out, which isn’t positive.

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Preston has been in [additional restrictions] since 7th August and there was always an approach whereby we would ask our public health professionals what we needed to effectively tackle the virus - and yet now we seem to be going back to a dynamic where it’s being decided by ministers,” Cllr Brown said.

While he did not want to be drawn on which tier he thought Preston would - or should - end up in this week, the city’s leader did say that he believed restaurants, cafes and pubs should be allowed to reopen.

“The public health evidence seems to be saying it wasn’t a huge issue in the first place in venues like that - and I think the vast majority [of those businesses] are extremely responsible.

“It’s a balance between protecting people’s lives and making sure the economy is going to be something that we’ll still have when we get out of this.”

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It is unclear whether the government will impose the new tiers at a district level or across the whole county, with health secretary Matt Hancock suggesting that "granular detail" may be a consideration, but the Prime Minsker later saying that the tiers would have to be "sensible and large enough".

Lancashire was a patchwork of different restrictions for much of August and September - with areas like Preston and Pendle subject to tougher rules almost two months before they arrived in many other areas.

Uniformity in the restrictions in force across the county did not come until late September and several leaders say they would welcome a return to more localised rules - particularly those who want to see their boroughs emerge into Tier 2.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Lancashire has also made a collective case to government for a district-by-district approach to the imposition of the new tiers.

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Ribble Valley leader Stephen Atkinson said that a looser level of restrictions for the borough would be “a lifeline for businesses before Christmas”

“Our numbers are amongst the fastest-falling in Lancashire and we could be down to around 100 cases per 100,000 [people] by the time the national lockdown ends at the current rate of decline.

“But we don’t want people from areas with high infection travelling into those with lower rates, as that would just counter all the hard work that the residents of Ribble Valley have done,” Cllr Atkinson said.

Wyre leader David Henderson agreed that unrestricted movement between districts in different tiers would put places like Wyre “back where we started”.

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He says the principal benefit of Tier 2 status would be the reopening of restaurants and pubs, even under restrictions on household mixing and the new 11pm closing time. In the new Tier 3, hospitality venues will only be allowed to serve food on a takeaway basis.

“I’ve got friends who are licensees and restaurant owners and I know exactly how much they are struggling. They have got to be allowed to reopen soon, even if that is in some limited way.

“They have got to be able to at least try to get something going well before we’re into the Christmas routine.

“I recently walked down a street in Poulton that is part of the night-time economy and it was like a ghost street.

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“But if some areas are kept in Tier 3, then people should stay in that area and not take [the virus] somewhere else - of course, you can’t really police it, you just have to trust people,” Cllr Henderson said.

The rules for the new Tier 3 state that travel outside of “very high” alert-level areas should be avoided other than “where necessary, such as for work, education, youth services, to receive medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities”.

Meanwhile, Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley says the fact that the borough’s case rate is currently close to the national average means that there is “a good case” for Chorley being put into Tier 2.

“I think we would be disadvantaged by going into Tier 3 and our economy would be damaged - but with no real benefit [to reducing transmission], because our numbers are coming down sufficiently fast and would continue to do so under Tier 2.

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“Chorley people have generally complied with the regulations and so I don’t see that suddenly changing now.

“It would obviously be more simple for the government to lock down an entire county, but the medical people tell us that we need specific answers to specific situations that deal with the problems in a given area,” Cllr Bradley said.

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