THE LEGAL challenge against Warwickshire’s Tier 3 allocation will not be pursued by Stratford District Council.
The government finally responded to the council’s judicial review pre-action protocol letter yesterday (Tuesday), after missing two deadlines imposed by the council.
Government explained, despite south Warwickshire having low infection rates compared to other areas, including nearby Redditch borough in Tier 2, it was in a wider cluster with Coventry and Solihull, and areas of the county with higher infection rates had been taken into account. Government also feared a ‘patchwork quilt’ approach would be confusing for the public and lead to lack of compliance.
The response also revealed Warwickshire County Council requested considering tiers at upper tier authority level along with clustering with Coventry and Solihull – knowledge the district council claims it was unaware of
The district was left reeling following the decision to place it in the most restrictive tier, particularly as infection rates were among the lowest in the country at the time of the decision.
It has also been reported nationally Stratford’s economy is the fourth worst affected in the country and the worst affected area in the West Midlands.
But in its letter, government has assured Warwickshire will be considered separately to surrounding areas next week when the tier allocations are reviewed.
In a statement, Stratford District Council leader Tony Jefferson said he sympathised with the government’s position: “First, Stratford-on-Avon District Council acknowledges the extraordinarily difficult position in which the government finds itself, dealing with the greatest public health emergency that the country has ever experienced in modern times.
“The district council has been supportive of all of the measures that the government has put in place throughout the pandemic and share the common objective of keeping our residents safe. It was, therefore, an incredibly difficult decision for the district council to challenge the Government on this issue.”
He added the decision to launch legal action reflected the impact on the district’s economy, and the low infection rates recorded.
He went on: “The rates for Stratford-on-Avon District continue to fall and the latest position shows that the current rate for the district is 45.4 per 100,000 over seven days, with only a handful of authorities including Cornwall nationally having a lower rate. It has to be stressed that all our indicators are relatively low and the trend is still downward.”
Talking about the government’s response to the legal action he added: “Whilst this is not the response we had hoped for, we do accept that government had to make a decision on an appropriate geography to make its assessment. However, we did note that in some areas of the country decisions were made on a more granular level and will be reviewing the decisions that the government make next week.
“We are satisfied that government has listened to our direct concerns and those made by other authorities in the same position. There have been a number of announcements from ministers including Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Prime Minster, stating that they will consider tiering at a lower level for the review scheduled for next week.
“Indeed, a letter from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to the Leader of Warwickshire County Council states: “I also set out to the House that we will formally review the data and tier allocations for all area across England two weeks from when the tiers come into force – so on December 16. Then we will again assess each area individually, including Warwickshire, on its own merits. I hope this provides you with the assurance you seek.”
Mr Jefferson also shared the revelation the county council requested the approach of considering tiers at public health, upper tier authority level alongside Coventry and Solihull.
However, a spokesman for the county council said the move sought to maximise the county’s chances of a Tier 2 allocation, following concerns the area would be designated at a West Midlands Regional level rather than a public health level.
Coun Jefferson added: “Whilst we have not achieved the immediate result that we had hoped for, it was absolutely appropriate, with the information we had available at the time, that the district council raised the formal challenge with government. We are also conscious that any formal legal action challenging this decision would now not be heard before the review of tiers scheduled for December 16. At this stage, therefore, we are not pursuing further legal action.
“Ahead of next week’s review the government has committed to meeting with us and the other Warwickshire authorities. This will provide us with the opportunity to further champion our position. We expect that this meeting will be held later this week.
“We will be asking the government to recognise the continuing improvement in the position in Stratford-on-Avon District and to move us out of Tier 3 at the next review to allow for our hospitality industry to salvage some trade ahead of Christmas.”