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The village of Menston in West Yorkshire, is used to having something of a split personality.
It is almost a local in-joke: given half of the village pays taxes to the council in Bradford, eight miles away, but the other half pay theirs to the council in Leeds, 10 miles away, residents either pick a side and proudly stick to it, or else live in a state of constant confusion. To make things worse, the village postcodes are all Leeds.
Historically, it is not a division that causes serious problems,but since the Government’s partial lockdown of the Bradford council area, however, Menston has effectively been cut in two.
The Leeds half has the same liberties most of the country enjoys, while the Bradford half is living under tight restrictions.
“It’s crazy, Menston’s been split down the middle,” villager Michael Rhodes, 66, told The Telegraph on Sunday.
“My house is right on the border. I can literally walk out, go 20 metres across the road into the park, and that apparently gives me different freedoms. So which do we abide by?”
The seemingly unthinking placement of the local lockdown boundary has frustrated people in the area, not least the local MP, Philip Davies, who called the decision to cleave Menston in two “frankly idiotic” and “completely crass”.
Mr Davies has even had a “very robust conversation” with both the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, about the matter. The Prime Minister, he says, “listened, and said I made a very strong case.”
Matt Hancock told him the line had to be drawn somewhere.
“[That] would be easier to take if they’d made any effort, but they’ve just idly gone where the council boundary is, which is completely illogical,” Mr Davies, the MP for half of Menston, given the constituency boundary also runs through told the village, told The Telegraph.
“This has happened not because of anything to do with the rates of infection in my constituency, but because we fall under the auspices of the Bradford council. And do you know the maddest thing of all? The other half of Menston, which is in [MP] Stewart Andrew’s constituency [Pudsey, West Yorkshire], is actually closer to Bradford. And my side need to drive through theirs to get anywhere! It’s absolutely crackers.”
On the streets of Menston itself, locals aren’t so much angry as baffled. Mr Rhodes, who has lived in the area for most of his life and is a devoted Bradford City fan, works at a golf course near Leeds – firmly outside the lockdown area.
“I respect that they need to do sensible things and this is a semi-rural area, so the line has to be drawn, but am I supposed to go from here to work? I don’t actually know the answer. It’s just a bit confusing.”
The answer is yes, people in the Bradford area can commute, but the partial lockdown –introduced in various areas of the north of England on July 31 and, as of last Friday, now extended until at least August 15 – does prohibit people from socialising with people who they do not live with either at home or in other indoor public venues, such as pubs and restaurants.
Mr Davies said: “We’re talking about people who cannot use grandparents for childcare, people who can’t socialise in the pub. It’s not good enough to play with people’s lives and livelihoods like this. The point I keep making is that if there’s a problem in a particular ward of Bradford, lock down that ward in Bradford. I thought that was the point of test and trace?”
Rory Aspell, a 42 year-old who works in a local Co-Op supermarket, chuckles lightly at the confusion, as the location of the council boundary has long been viewed as senseless by residents.
“It’s always been puzzling. I’m in the free bit, but on the other side of the field I’m looking at, people are living by different rules. Some places are surrounded on three sides by Bradford but they’re in Leeds, just because the line wiggles like that. Ilkley, up the road, is a very well-to-do area, but they get bundled in with Bradford too. I don’t think they feel like they’re part of Bradford…” he says.
Aspell can see the farcical side, but he knows there are serious consequences for the Government’s haphazard casting of local lockdown nets. He is a “member pioneer” for the Co-op, meaning he works with local charities that help vulnerable people in the area. Some can meet, some cannot.
“We were due to run a session next week for men who are lonely and have problems socialising, but that’s had to be cancelled again now, because it was in Menston. It’s an important thing for that group of individuals, and I don’t think [the Government] have thought about the impact on people when they’ve done this. I get you need a boundary, and someone has to collect your bins, but why is that also being used for the coronavirus?”
In the village centre, pubs were open for Sunday lunch, desperate to make as much money as possible after so many months permanently shuttered.
Those in the partial lockdown were only able to serve single households, and a maximum of six people per table, rather than eight.
They had definitely been quieter since the Government’s announcement, one publican said, and it didn’t really make sense when pubs equidistant from Bradford followed different rules, “but what can we do? We’ll just have to wait, I suppose.”
For much of the day, as on most summer weekends, the cricket green was the place to be. Menston Cricket Club’s 3rd XI were playing nearby Green Lane – a team which, even more puzzlingly, were visiting from outside the lockdown area.
Under a relentless sun, Menston defended their home pitch fiercely. The track was immaculate. Spirits were high. And there were, at least, no disputes about where to place the boundary.