Council with one of lowest COVID infection rates legally challenges government over ‘irrational’ Tier 3 lockdown

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
A sign promoting social distancing to combat the spread of the coronavirus is seen beside the Christmas tree in Covent Garden in central London on November 27, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England. - England will return to a regional tiered system when the national stay-at-home order ends on December 2, and 23.3 million residents in the worst-hit areas are set to enter the "very high" alert level. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A sign promoting social distancing to combat the spread of coronavirus. (Getty)

A council in England with one of the lowest infection rates for coronavirus has legally challenged the government’s decision to place it in the toughest lockdown tier.

Stratford-on-Avon District Council has issued a legal letter that states the government has made an “arbitrary and irrational” decision to place it under Tier 3 controls following the end of the national lockdown.

The Conservative leader of the council, Tony Jefferson, said the local authority had sent a judicial review pre-action protocol (PAP) letter to health secretary Matt Hancock.

It is urging him to “retract” the decision to put the district in Tier 3 along with the rest of Warwickshire, and instead place it into Tier 1 or 2.

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock hosts a remote press conference to update the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on November 30, 2020. - Britain has been Europe's worst-hit country during the pandemic, recording more than 57,000 deaths from some 1.6 million cases. (Photo by Alberto Pezzali / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PEZZALI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Conservative leader of Stratford-on-Avon council said the local authority had sent a judicial review pre-action protocol letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, pictured. (Getty)

The council has decided to send the letter, which sets out what must be done to avoid a matter potentially ending up in court, following its carrying out of a comparison of the seven-day infection rates per 100,000 people in the district and neighbouring areas.

The district forms part of a sub-regional group for the purposes of being placed into Tier 3, which includes the rest of the county, together with Coventry and Solihull – all of which’s case rates are higher.

According to the latest government COVID data, in the seven days to Saturday the case rate for Stratford was 83.

Watch: MPs approve new COVID tiers to replace national lockdown

But for Nuneaton and Bedworth, in the county’s north, it was 232, North Warwickshire district was 252, Solihull 177, Coventry 189, Rugby 158, and Warwick 117.

It has previously been reported Stratford has the lowest average case rate of any area in the country being placed into Tier 3.

Explaining the decision to issue the letter, Jefferson said: “This is not an action we take lightly, however none of the data we see warrants Stratford-on-Avon District being placed in Tier 3.

“It is very disappointing that the government did not use much greater granularity in deciding on tiers.

“I know that they have looked at a number of factors including the rates in all age groups, particularly older people who are more vulnerable to the virus; and we have to take into consideration the pressure on our local hospitals and NHS services.

“However, none of the metrics for our district warrant it being placed in Tier 3.

“The decision to put Stratford district in Tier 3 therefore appears arbitrary and irrational.”

He added there was a “widespread feeling of disbelief and anger locally” at the decision, adding “hospitality businesses are devastated by the news”.

Under Tier 3 measures, that have come into effect today, pubs, bars and restaurants must close with the exception of takeaways, deliveries and drive-throughs.

Jefferson added: “People know the relevant numbers for the area and fail to see the decision as either an accurate reflection of the situation or fair.

“Locally, Tier 3 is just not seen as credible.”

Shoppers in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Stratford will be in the more restrictive Tier 3 despite having some of the lowest infection rates in the country.
Stratford-on-Avon is in the more restrictive Tier 3 despite having some of the lowest infection rates in the country. (PA)

MPs have backed the tier measures, despite Boris Johnson suffering the largest Tory rebellion of this parliament.

The House of Commons voted by 291 votes to 78 – a government majority of 213 – for the new restrictions on Tuesday evening.

Fifty-five Conservatives rebelled over the measures, with 52 voting against the government, a further two acting as tellers for the noes and one formally abstaining.

But the measures passed with Labour ordering its MPs to abstain after party leader Sir Keir Starmer warned the plans pose a “significant” health risk.

Watch: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work