Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has rallied against the reintroduction of local lockdowns in parts of England with high COVID case rates – claiming they “simply do not work”.
The government has so far refused to rule out reimposing tougher sanctions in English regions where a more infectious variant of coronavirus – first identified in India – is causing cases to climb once again.
Bolton is one of the areas to suffer some of the biggest rises – with transmission rates in the borough more than 14 times the national average.
Speaking to Sky on the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Given though Bolton has been in some form of a lockdown for a year, it’s not a step we want to take but of course we might have to take it and we will if it’s necessary to protect people.”
But GM Mayor Andy Burnham has fought back against talk of local lockdowns this week – claiming that regional restrictions “turn lives upside down, ruin businesses and put young people’s lives on hold – with little effect on containing the virus.”
Writing in The Mirror, Burnham suggested that people in lockdown areas would simply travel to other parts of England, causing the virus to circulate further.
He stated: “The trust of the public will be lost if local lockdown restrictions are imposed on them just at the time when the Government is easing them everywhere else.
“And it will be harder for mayors and local leaders to ask the public to observe local lockdowns when the Government hasn’t even tried other solutions that might have prevented them in the first place.”
Burnham claimed the real solution was “staring us right in the face” – and that people needed full income support during self-isolation, whilst high case areas like Bolton should be given permission to vaccinate all people right down to the age of 16.
Greater Manchester is no stranger to local lockdowns.
In Autumn last year, several boroughs were living under different sets of ever-changing rules. At one stage, Trafford and Bolton were given the green light to lift social curbs on meeting others indoors – only to have the restrictions reimposed on the same day they were due to be removed.
On September 8, Bolton hospitality was blamed for high case rates and the sector was restricted to takeaway-only – with all venues temporarily required to close from 10pm to 5am.
Now, with case rates rising once again, business owners in the borough are concerned that similar restrictions could return; just days after bars, cafes, pubs, cinemas and culture venues reopened to the public on May 17.
Testing has however been ramped up in Bolton to slow the spread and a new vaccine centre has opened – with more than 6,000 local people queuing up to get a COVID shot over the weekend.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to commit to a course of action yet, but said there was nothing yet in the data to suggest England would need to deviate from its roadmap to exiting lockdown.
He stated: “We’re looking at all the data as it comes in from places like Bolton, Blackburn, Bedford, Sefton” and added that the situation was “under very careful, close review.”
The first bright yellow Bee Network bus has hit the streets of Greater Manchester
Greater Manchester residents will soon start to see bright yellow double decker buses travelling the region’s streets in the coming weeks.
With exactly six months to go before Greater Manchester “brings buses back under local control”, Mayor Andy Burnham has joined a number of other local leaders in unveiling the brand-new ‘Bee Network’ co-branded buses.
In what marks the biggest change to transport in Greater Manchester for almost 40 years, according to Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), bus operator Diamond – which currently runs services in Bolton – has teamed up with Go North West to run the first franchised services in Wigan, Bolton, and parts of Salford and Bury from September this year.
Diamond has agreed to start transforming their buses into Bee Network ones from this week, with more set to appear on the roads every month.
The first bright yellow double decker bus has now hit the streets of Bolton, and is serving the number 8 route – which connects Bolton and Manchester city centre via Farnworth and Salford.
As already announced by TfGM and Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), when franchising is officially introduced on 24 September 2023, 50 brand-new electric Bee Network buses will hit the streets on day one, alongside new ‘Euro VI’ vehicles, and dozens more co-branded buses from the existing fleet.
A further 50 electric buses will then be introduced onto the network in March 2024, which is when the second part of franchising starts.
All of the 270 new electric Bee Network buses will be fully accessible, with wheelchair bays, hearing induction loops, audio and visual announcement systems, and anti-slip flooring.
Mayor Andy Burnham said the first Bee Network bus entering service is “very much the start of our journey”, and added that the scheme will “ultimately deliver a greener, integrated and more inclusive transport system that will transform how people travel around our city-region.”
Transport Commissioner Vernon Everitt also called the first bus’s introduction onto the streets as “a further significant step” towards the integration of the Bee Network and the “transformation” of public transport and active travel in the region.
He continued: “From September we’ll also have dozens of new state-of-the-art buses serving passengers in Wigan, Bolton, and parts of Salford and Bury.
“These will be the first of many across Greater Manchester that will, alongside the new lower fares – which are already increasing ridership – and improvements to travel information, improve bus travel for everyone who lives and works here.”
Featured Image – TfGM
Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone cameras are now being used for ‘detecting crime’
Cameras installed for Greater Manchester’s now-discarded Clean Air Zone (CAZ) scheme are apparently being used for “detecting crime”.
A total of 407 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras were installed across the region back in February 2022 ready for the start of the controversial £60 million scheme that never happened – but now, councillors in Bolton have revealed that the technology isn’t going to waste, and is actually being for an entirely different reason all together.
After Horwich councillor David Grant “raised concerns” about the cost of running the cameras at recent Bolton Council meeting, leader Martyn Cox revealed that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has been closely controlling them and using them “to good effect in detecting crime”, according to BBC Manchester.
“Now that the Mayor of Greater Manchester has graciously confirmed that the area of Bolton will most like not be subject to any clean air zone can the leader confirm that he intends to demand that the presumably now defunct cameras be removed?,” Mr Grant asked at the meeting.
He continued: “Secondly, bearing in mind these cameras are live and drawing electricity from our street furniture, will he be requesting a payment for electricity estimated Greater Manchester wide at £375,000 a month?”
Council leader David Cox then explained to Mr Grant that information from the cameras released in line with data protection legislation has been used to support at least two murder investigations, one high risk missing person case, one county lines drug supply case, two separate fatal road traffic collisions, and an aggravated burglary.
“However, it is acknowledged that there are concerns around the use of number plate recognition cameras and allowing direct access to the cameras to organisations such as Greater Manchester Police when these are no longer required for a charging clean air zone,” Mr Cox continued.
“There is a commitment to undertake public consultation on the future use of cameras once we have a decision from central government on the investment led clean air plan.”
The Clean Air Zone was to initially hand motorists daily charges of up to £60 for some of the most polluting vehicles on Greater Manchester‘s roads.
The government agreed to delay the deadline for the scheme until 2026, but local leaders wanted to scrap all charges and help to fund vehicle upgrades instead.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) then set out evidence supporting an investment-led, and, crucially for residents and motorists, a non-charging Clean Air Plan back in June 2022 – which it said was “the best solution” to address the roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) problem.