'Blue wall' Tories in West Yorkshire call for postcode-level coronavirus restrictions ahead of review tomorrow

'Blue wall' Tories in parts of West Yorkshire where residents have seen coronavirus restrictions reimposed have called on the Government to take a more granular approach to where the boundaries of the directives apply ahead of a review of the rules tomorrow.

Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 4:45 pm

Five Conservative MPs representing seats where restrictions have returned due to coronavirus spikes have made it clear they think putting the rules in place on a local authority level has meant some areas had been unfairly included when there had been little or no new cases.

Dewsbury MP Mark Eastwood said he had written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock ahead of a review of the restrictions which it is understood will take place tomorrow.

He said ideally he would like to see Kirklees taken out of restrictions altogether but if that was not possible, he wanted to see decisions made at a postcode level.

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A woman wearing a face mask walks through the centre of Bradford, West Yorkshire, one of the areas where new measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Stricter rules have been introduced for people in Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire, banning members of different households from meeting each other indoors. Photo: PA

He said: “When the restrictions were announced I was a little bit surprised because we’ve been working closely with the council and they appeared to be getting a grip on it, but to be fair there was a spike, they went up to 34 cases per 100,000.

“The main priority is to get Kirklees as a whole out but if the circumstances don’t allow that, we should look on a postcode level.”

Keighley’s Robbie Moore added: “There is frustration that there are certain parts of the constituency that have not witnessed high rates or new cases, particularly the Wharfedale part of the constituency.”

He said: “I think it just needs to be much more geographically localised rather than just following the council authority boundaries. The thing is, the Keighley side has seen new cases Covid cases coming through, whereas the Ilkley side has not.”

People pass through a Covid-19 testing centre at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, one of the areas where new measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Stricter rules have been introduced for people in Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire, banning members of different households from meeting each other indoors. Photo: PA

He added: “What I certainly can’t advise is a full lifting of the restrictions, there are new cases showing in some parts, but not in other parts.”

Both Mr Moore and Shipley’s Philip Davies have been campaigning to split their constituencies out of the Bradford Council area, and Mr Moore said this was yet another example of how the patches did not fit together.

He said: “I’ve been informed from a ministerial level that the decision on the geographical area [where restrictions were imposed] was made by the council authority, yes it was signed off by Government, but I think it just shows that more geographically localised decision making needs to be adopted.”

Another example, Mr Moore said, was the council’s decision to reimpose parking restrictions in Ilkley.

He added: “It’s that real frustration at a local level of not listening to what people in Ilkley wanted.”

But Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, said: “The MP for Keighley has put out a video which is misinformed. We want to work with Government to make sure that the regulations are followed and the infection rates come down. We should all be working towards that end.

"Arguing about whose responsibility these local restrictions are is therefore unhelpful and distracting to the effort of the nation and of the district to fight this virus.

"The truth of the matter is that as a district which has been consistently in the top five for infection rates in the country since the data first came out, Bradford Council is inevitably in conversation with Government.

"Naturally they want assurances from us that we are taking the virus seriously.

In a column for the Telegraph and Argus newspaper Mr Davies said: “The local lockdown that was imposed at the end of last week has made it more urgent than ever we separate from Bradford.

“The problem in the Bradford district with worrying levels of coronavirus infections is largely concentrated in Bradford itself, and yet places like Wharfedale and Baildon in my constituency have been included in the blanket lockdown thrown over the entire district, unnecessarily.

“If the Shipley and Keighley constituencies had their own local authority, rather than being part of Bradford, it is very likely that, like Leeds, we would not have had a lockdown imposed on us.”

But he added: “The case for leaving Bradford Council is certainly not confined to the coronavirus lockdown.”

While Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney is also understood to be pushing for decisions to be taken on a more granular level and previously said he was "surprised and disappointed" that his constituency was included.

Will Simpson, a Labour councillor for Denby Dale, has also written to the Health Secretary asking for councils to be allowed to impose or remove local lockdown measures within their borough based on local data.

He said the current arrangements were a “top down approach from Whitehall”, and added: “To simply impose a lockdown upon large administrative geographies of metropolitan areas like Kirklees is too crude a tool, as it fails to recognise the significant differences within its localities and inherently fails to provide the targeted response that would be ideal.”

While Calder Valley Conservative MP Craig Whitaker also said: “I'm working to make the case that the Calder Valley should have these additional restrictions lifted. Only two of our nine wards have had small amounts of cases last week, Todmorden and Elland. The rest had zero.”

It is understood that although the government is not obliged to review restrictions in West Yorkshire until August 19, that Mr Hancock will look at what can be done tomorrow.

But Tim Swift, the leader of Labour-run Calderdale council said breaking down the system further would be too difficult.

He said: "I think the problem ever since the national lockdown is about people being confused about what the rules are and the more you try to target something like that, the more difficult it becomes.

"A constituency basis will be particularly hard because a lot of people are not aware of which constituency they live in. If you try it by postcode then again it quickly becomes increasingly arbitrary.

"But I think also it's giving out a risky message because although we know where the concentration of cases is, we know the kind of people who've been getting infected and are most at risk are people working in shops, people working in care, people working in private hire, those kind of front-facing jobs.

"I don't accept that the virus is not also present in the wider parts of the area. I think at this point in time messing with the boundaries is a bit of a distraction.

"I can understand why people feel there's not many cases where they are and find this very hard, I think we're all finding it very hard. But actually, the most important thing for everybody is that we get the number of cases down.”

The laws enforcing lockdown restrictions in areas of the north of England including parts of West Yorkshire, Manchester, and parts of east Lancashire came into force at midnight today.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020 were finally published yesterday afternoon.

Ministers had said the rules – which ban people from different households meeting in a private home or garden following a spike in coronavirus cases – would apply from midnight on July 31.

Officials refused to comment when asked why there had been a delay in introducing the laws and on what legal basis they had been enforced for the first five days of the measures.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, commenting on the legislation on Twitter, said: “They come into force and do not (cannot) apply to anything which happened before that.”

The legislation imposes restrictions on metropolitan, city and borough council areas in: Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Calderdale and Kirklees.

Anyone found flouting the rules could be fined £100 up to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offences.

But the restriction zone could change at any time as directed by Mr Hancock, papers setting out the legislation said.

The regulations also amend existing laws for Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford, which means those areas are now subject to the same measures as well.

They were initially governed by less restrictive legislation which came into force on Saturday.

Similar restrictions also apply to Leicester – which saw the first so-called “local lockdown” imposed on June 29 – after another set of laws was brought into force on Monday.

The latest laws also prohibit people from meeting others from different households in areas outside the lockdown zone, such as at homes in nearby towns not subject to the rules.

And people cannot meet in groups of more than 30 in public places.

Critics have branded this the resurgence of the so-called “lockdown sex ban” because the law prohibits encounters between people from different households in their homes or other “private dwellings” and defines a gathering as “when two or more people are present together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other”.

Mr Wagner said these were “crazy times where the criminal law is this intrusive on private rights”.

The ban does not extend to places such as hotels, campsites and guest houses or include other buildings such as care homes.

And there are exemptions to the rules, including: for those who have formed a support bubble and have become “linked” households; for people sharing childcare duties; in order to go to work; to attend a birth at the mother’s request; to visit a dying loved one; to fulfil a legal obligation; to move house, to care for a vulnerable person or escape injury, illness or risk of harm.

The restrictions must be reviewed once every 14 days and the first review must take place by August 19.

But they could be in place for up to six months if not scrapped by the Government.