Stratford-on-Avon District Council has ruled out a judicial review challenge “at this stage” over ministers’ decision to place it in Tier 3 on the lifting of the latest lockdown, after the Government Legal Department responded to its pre-action letter.
The council had previously argued that none of the metrics for the district warranted it being placed in the highest tier, and that the decision appeared “arbitrary and irrational”. The area was particularly reliant on the hospitality industry, it added.
Cllr Tony Jefferson, Leader of Stratford-on-Avon, revealed that the GLD response – received “after much delay” – said that the government stood by the original decision to assess areas at upper tier local authority level and the rationale for including the district in a wider cluster with Coventry and Solihull and the whole of Warwickshire.
The GLD said the decision had been taken on the grounds of the serious and imminent threat to public health, and to do so at a lower level would have 'resulted in a 'patchwork quilt' which was confusing for the public and led to a lack of compliance'.”
Cllr Jefferson said: “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.
"In their response the Government also shared some new information with us of which we were not aware when we made the decision to challenge them; that the County Council requested the approach of considering tiers at public health, upper tier authority level along with clustering with Coventry and Solihull.”
He added that the council was satisfied that Government had listened to its direct concerns and those made by other authorities in the same position. There had been a number of announcements from ministers including the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Prime Minster, stating that they would consider tiering at a lower level for the review scheduled for next week, he said.
Cllr Jefferson highlighted a letter from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to the Leader of Warwickshire County Council stating: "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 16 December. Then we will again assess each area individually, including Warwickshire, on its own merits. I hope this provides you with the assurance you seek."
Stratford-on-Avon’s Leader insisted that whilst the council had not achieved the immediate result that it 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”.
He said the council had also been conscious that any formal legal action challenging this decision would now not be heard before the review of tiers scheduled for the 16 December. “At this stage, therefore, we are not pursuing further legal action.”
Cllr Jefferson said that the Government had, ahead of next week's review, committed to meeting with Stratford 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.”
He added: "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."
In his update on the legal challenge Cllr Jefferson pointed out that of 30 local authorities in the West Midlands, only Malvern Hills District Council had a lower rate of infections than Stratford-on-Avon District. “Seven local authority areas in the West Midlands with a higher infection rate than did Stratford-on-Avon District were placed in Tier 2. Indeed, one Tier 2 authority had an infection rate nearly three times higher than Stratford-on-Avon District.”
He added that the rates for Stratford-on-Avon continued to fall and the latest position showed that the current rate for the district was 45.4 per 100,000 over 7 days, with only a handful of authorities including Cornwall nationally having a lower rate.