NEWS that gyms and leisure centres will be allowed to stay open in Lancashire when it goes into a Tier 3 lockdown has caused fury among politicians in St Helens and the wider region.

The closure of gyms and leisure centres is an additional measure as it is not one of the ‘baseline’ measures set out for Tier 3, or “very high” alert areas.

However, council leaders have repeatedly said this week that the restrictions imposed on the Liverpool City Region by the Government was not up for negotiation.

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Despite the denials, council leaders and the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram have come under fire for the decision to close gyms and leisure centres.

Today, it was announced that Lancashire will be placed under Tier 3 lockdown restrictions from Saturday, although gyms and leisure centres will be allowed to stay open.

Conversely, soft play areas and bingo halls have been ordered to close, though remain open in the Liverpool City Region.

The news has sparked fury with city region politicians, with many taking to Twitter to vent their dismay at the situation.

St Helens Borough Council leader David Baines has called the Government’s approach to the three-tier system as “inconsistent and shambolic”.

Cllr Baines said:  “The three-tier system was supposed to clarify the rules and make it easy for people to know and understand, but today’s announcement of different Tier 3 restrictions for Lancashire to here means the Government’s plan hasn’t even lasted the week.

“How can gyms be told to close here but open a few miles away in West Lancs? How can soft play centres be closed there, but open here?

“It makes no sense at all and just shows how inconsistent and shambolic the Government’s approach is to this and literally everything else.

“It’s actually quite straightforward. If Government want their tier system to work it should be the same everywhere, it should be based on evidence, and it should come with the necessary support for local economies and workers.

“The fact they can’t or won’t do this makes me and many others question not just their capability but their motives.

"I’ve no doubt they’re trying to play divide and conquer with our region.”

Following the announcement, St Helens North MP and Shadow Home Office Minister Conor McGinn said he has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ask him to publish the specific advice in relation to gym and leisure centre closures in St Helens.

Mr McGinn said: "It seems absurd that they can remain open in towns and communities that are more or less identical to ours, just up the road in Lancashire.

"The Government needs to explain what the difference and evidence is, and if there is none then our gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres should be open too.

"I also am very concerned that some Tier 3 areas seem to be getting bespoke financial support, while we have got nothing on Merseyside.”

A joint statement has also been released from the Metro Mayor, the Liverpool City Mayor Joe Anderson and the leaders of the six Liverpool City Region local authorities.

St Helens Star: Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve RotheramLiverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram

“This week the Government imposed Tier 3 restrictions on Liverpool City Region,” the statement said.

“We are very conscious of the high rates of coronavirus in our region and the pressure this causes on our NHS, and have therefore always understood the need for some action to bring the virus under control and protect our residents. However, we have always been clear that we were given no choice about the specific package of measures that would be applied to us, or the scientific evidence to support them.

“We note the decision to move Lancashire into Tier 3 today, while also being concerned that there appear to be differences between the two packages of measures, particularly the opening of gyms.  We therefore require Government to explain, with evidence, why they believe gyms in the Liverpool City Region are a greater risk for Covid transmission, than those elsewhere.

“We simply will not accept our region being treated differently to other Tier 3 areas, without robust scientific evidence.

“These inconsistencies in restrictions between areas within the same tier risk undermining the new system from the beginning.”

City region leaders have repeated their demand that the Government “urgently” produces the scientific evidence behind their decision to close gyms in the Liverpool City Region, while allowing them to stay open in other areas.

READ > Council leaders insist they had 'no choice' over decision to close gym

“In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to support hospitality and leisure businesses that are affected by the new restrictions via our own £40 million emergency fund, using local funds that have been repurposed to support our economy,” the statement continued.

“The fund has opened for applications today, and we are continuing to press the Government for a wider economic support package, including increased funding for furlough and self-employed people.”