Could all East Anglia be put into a higher tier at end of second lockdown?
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
MPs from Suffolk are hoping to persuade the government to decide on county lines when post-lockdown tiers are announced on Thursday – but there are fears the whole East of England could be considered as a single identity.
That would mean infection rates from areas with a high number of cases near London could be considered alongside those from Suffolk which has one of the lowest infection rates in the country.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter, whose constituency includes much of Mid Suffolk which has the lowest district rate of Covid in the country, said he and his colleagues were hoping that the government would recognise the differences that exist within the East of England region.
That includes five counties: Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire as well as the unitary authorities of Southend, Thurrock, Mid Bedfordshire, Bedford, Luton, and Peterborough.
The MPs’ fear is that places with relatively high rates of infection like Luton, Basildon, and Brentwood could push the whole region into tier two even though Suffolk has the fourth lowest infection rate in the country for county councils. As a region, the East does have the lowest infection rate in England at 140 cases per 100,000 population – but that is still much higher than Suffolk itself with 79 cases.
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The MPs’ views:
Dr Poulter said: “We think the government was looking at a regional decision – but some of us are hoping to persuade them that there is a great difference between counties like Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire and communities near the M25 which are effectively part of Greater London.”
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He and other MPs were hoping to persuade the government to consider the issue on a “sub-regional” basis – possibly looking at Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as one entity separate from the communities nearer to London.
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said: “I was quite confident that Suffolk would be in tier one when the levels are announced, but if the government is looking at the figures on a regional basis that is more of a concern and we are trying to speak to ministers and officials on this.
“I would be very concerned if Ipswich was put into tier two and I will be doing what I can to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Councils await government guidance:
Officials and councillors at Suffolk County Council are adopting a “wait and see” approach regarding which tier the area ends up in when the announcement is made.
Council leader Matthew Hicks said he had no idea how large the areas for the proposed tiers were likely to be – but had heard them described as a regional, tiered approach. But at this stage it was not clear whether the government was talking about the nine official regions of England – or were using it as a generic term to describe a smaller area than national.
Essex had been in tier two before the lockdown. A spokeswoman for its county council said: “We welcome the announcement by the Government to move out of the national lockdown and a return to a regional, tiered approach.
“The Government will make the decision around the tier that Essex will exit lockdown into later this week and this will be determined by the latest data. Once we understand this we will consider the implications for Essex, our residents and businesses.”
Town centre businesses across Suffolk are preparing for the return of customers next Wednesday:
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, the BID company representing town centre businesses, said his members were looking forward to welcoming customers and were relieved the government had given them time to prepare to reopen.
He said: “I think people are looking forward to a very busy three-week period leading up to Christmas and will be looking to make the most of the opportunity they will have to be open for customers again.
“I think most of them are reasonably happy with the position we are in now and being able to open up an get back to work. There is some concern among those in the hospitality industry about which tier we will end up in.”
Mr Cordell said he would prefer tiers to be based on districts – on the West Suffolk boundaries – but said whatever happened businesses would get on and work through it.
Ipswich Central’s Paul Clement was totally opposed to tier boundary based on government regions: “How can you make a decision on tiers like this based on an area of that size? What does Luton have in common with Southwold? That would be ridiculous.”
He said the government kept saying there would be local measures after the end of the national lockdown: “If they go for a region of this size, that is not local.”