Calls for vote on Northumberland splitting from LA7 if North East moves into tougher Tier 3 covid restrictions

Pressure is growing for Northumberland to break away from the rest of the North East when it comes covid restrictions.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 19th October 2020, 9:59 am

Two councillors have called for a vote on whether or not the county should be tied to the rest of the region when decisions are made on which of the three tiers of restrictions people in Northumberland should be subject to.

Northumberland County Council’s leader, Cllr Glen Sanderson, has not agreed to this, but said that while the initial decision to join with other councils was correct, the ‘county should be a special case’ if stricter measures were on the cards.

The LA7 – Northumberland County Council plus the local authorities for Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham – approached the Government seeking additional local restrictions as a united front in September.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

File picture of Wooler. There are concerns over Northumberland, particularly its more rural parts, being placed under the same restrictions as more urban areas of the North East which have covid rates.

Following the introduction of the new three-tier approach, the whole of the North East was placed in the tier two – high category.

On Friday, October 16, it was confirmed that the LA7 would remain in tier two for another week, but there are fears the region is in the last-chance saloon if it wishes to avoid moving up to tier three – which restricts almost all household mixing and means the closure of pubs and other businesses.

The seven council leaders, alongside the North of Tyne Mayor and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, had previously issued a statement saying that they were ‘strongly opposed’ to a move to the very high tier, with fears for jobs and livelihoods from the ensuing impact of the restrictions.

However, Northumberland currently has by far the lowest rate of infection per 100,000 residents of the seven authorities. Cases continue to be largely focused in the south-east of the county and many rural areas are seeing just a handful of cases per week, if any.

(l-r) Cllrs Bridgett, Hill and Sanderson

And this has led Cllr Steven Bridgett, who represents Rothbury, and Cllr Georgina Hill, the ward member for Berwick East, to step up demands for Northumberland to be untangled from the rest of the LA7.

‘Honour this vote and reflect our wishes’

In a letter to Cllr Sanderson, Cllr Hill said: “The problem is that we have attached ourselves to the LA7, meaning that the whole of the North East is being considered by the Government en bloc.

“This was not a formal decision made by Northumberland County Council and neither councillors nor residents were consulted on it.

“We, therefore, ask that you seek the views of councillors through an indicative, named vote at a public online meeting next week. This could be done ‪next Thursday‬ but preferably sooner.

“The vote would be to withdraw from the LA7 and lobby for Northumberland separately. I trust that in the exercise of your delegated and emergency powers, as the Leader of NCC, you would honour this vote and reflect our wishes.”

Backing this proposal, Cllr Bridgett said: “I have had numerous correspondence from my residents stating that it was the council (and in turn me as an elected member) that called for the current measures and I have had to repeatedly tell them that the original decision taken by this council was not voted on by full council, nor was it scrutinised or debated by members.

“I think at the very least we need an indicative vote should the Government look to take us down the road of tier three restrictions.”

‘We will always abide by what is considered to be the safest option’

In response, Cllr Sanderson said: “Acting on public-health advice and with the health of residents and visitors to Northumberland our top priority, I believe that we made the right decision then and that it is still right for Northumberland now.

“The advice we received from public-health experts was categorical, that due to travel between the county and other parts of the region, for work, school and leisure, Northumberland needed to be in the same zone as the other regional authorities.

“We fully understand how difficult this is for everyone, our families, our businesses and for the county as a whole, but the actions we have all taken have helped to stabilise a rapidly escalating situation.

“I have, however, made it clear to Ministers and officials that should tier three be imposed on the LA7, we will strongly oppose this for Northumberland, based on our current figures. The current restrictions are tough enough and I believe that our county should be a special case.

“I have made sure that every member has had the opportunity to be fully up to speed with the latest public-health data and, in discussions with councillors from across Northumberland, have received overwhelming support for our approach.

“Ultimately decisions about which tier we are in will be made by the Government, but health and wellbeing for the whole of Northumberland is our top priority and we will always abide by what is considered to be the safest option.”

LA7 leaders issued a statement on Friday after gaining a week’s reprieve from being subject to Tier 3 covid restrictions.

One chief described the region as ‘staring down the barrel of a gun’.

“We are at a critical point and cannot afford to let the virus rip through our communities – we need everyone to do their bit,” the council leaders said in a statement.

“We continue to engage with Government about the need for crucial economic support as well as localised control of Test and Trace, but we welcome the fact we are being listened to and we are committed to ongoing, constructive dialogue.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers and consequently the advertising that we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news by buying a copy of our newspaper.

If you can, please do pick up a copy when you are at the shops. Thank you for your support.