Fury of the city under scouse arrest: Armed police fining gym owners £1,000 and pubs turning into restaurants overnight to avoid ruin… ROBERT HARDMAN examines the absurdities of life in Liverpool, Britain’s first ‘tier three’ zone
- Two van loads of police arrive at gym to close down premises and fine the owner
- Hours earlier, police were less keen to intervene with a street party in Liverpool
- ROBERT HARDMAN has investigated the absurd life of Tier 3 locked down city
Whatever the merits of a Tier Three lockdown – and it is very hard to find a single fan here on Merseyside – one thing is beyond doubt: it is bad news for the waistline.
For you can still get a pint of beer or a glass of wine or any other drink in Liverpool, just as long as you order a huge plate of food to go with it.
But head for the gym to work it off and you could find yourself under arrest.
Yesterday, Wirral gym owner Nick Whitcombe received a visit from two vanloads of armed police after he refused to close his premises – and was handed a £1,000 fine, plus a warning of a steeper penalty if he does it again (which, he assures me, he will).
Yet, hours earlier, the police had been strangely reluctant to leave their vans when hundreds of tanked-up Liverpudlians had decided to usher in the new restrictions with a street party.
ROBERT HARDMAN sampled a bar’s new food as venues are forced to become restaurants to cope with Liverpool’s lockdown rules, as he quickly found out, the restrictions are bad news for the waistline
Footage of maskless youths dancing and chanting in central Liverpool late on Tuesday night was yesterday condemned by the city’s mayor, Joe Anderson, who accused the revellers of ‘shaming the city’.
They are also a reminder that Britain is entering this new round of Covid controls in a wholly different frame of mind when compared with the stoical compliance which greeted the first lockdown.
If there is one common sentiment here right now it is that Liverpool is being picked on by a national government which has not thought this through properly at all.
‘A lot of policy is dictated by London and London was in the forefront of the first wave of this virus,’ says councillor Paul Brant, the cabinet member for health on Liverpool City Council.
‘So we had national policies imposed on us here when we were still some way behind London.
Then those national policies were lifted while we were still behind London. But the embers of the virus were still burning here. And now they have reignited more quickly.’
He believes that the latest restrictions should have been applied here several weeks ago, citing the fact that the city’s intensive care beds are already 90 per cent full and will be at crisis point in the next week or so.
A very grim thought indeed. Yet last night, while an air of depression settled across this city, there were still signs that Liverpool is not going to go down without some sort of fight.
Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson has condemned footage of maskless youths dancing and chanting in central Liverpool late on Tuesday nigh
In the city’s Baltic Triangle district, I find some particularly ingenious rebranding under way on the site of a former brewery.
Huge posters advertise Liverpool’s own ‘Oktoberfest’, modelled on the great Munich beer festival – with rows of tables indoors and a boulevard of wooden drinking sheds outside.
To my surprise, it is still going strong under the new restrictions. They may have forced all pubs and bars to shut down. But, officially, this is now a very large restaurant.
‘Up until the new rules, we had been drinks and spirit-led. But now we are food-led,’ says Michael Tansey, manager of Birdies Bar And BBQ which is hosting this beer-turned-food festival.
He is adamant the new operation has to conform to both the spirit and the letter of the law.
Right now in Liverpool, this permits the sale of alcohol, as long as it is with food in a restaurant setting and the diners are from the same household.
So, all guests must pre-book online and confirm that they live together. And no one can even touch a drink until their main course has been delivered from the kitchen where chefs Stephen Hampton and Andrew Henry have been revamping the menus.
Instead of ordering a plate of chips to go with a huge £9 stein of premium German beer, you can only have your beer once you are tucking in to a £7.95 plate of bratwurst and fries or £6.50 salt and pepper chicken.
What’s more, the management have decided to limit all bookings to two hours.
It may hit sales but it will stop people ordering a burger and then sitting back with ten pints.
It is well-planned, well-organised and an example of private enterprise making the best of a bad lot.
There is a much angrier mood of defiance, however, among the city’s keep-fit community.
While revellers partied at illegal gatherings, local gym owners in Liverpool were discussing plans to ignore lockdown restrictions
For the rules dictate that all gyms must close. Many are refusing. Nick Whitcombe, who runs Bodytech Fitness on the Wirral side of the Mersey, says that up to 70 Merseyside gyms, including his own, are still letting their members through the door.
‘I have stuck my head above the parapet and have already had a fine but we have to stand together on this,’ he says.
‘The Government says it’s a matter for councils and the councils say it’s down to the Government. All our MPs, all our councillors and all our members say they want us to stay open – so why are we being fined?’
I meet him during a council of war at a neighbouring gym, EmpoweredFit.
‘Until someone gives me a very good reason why we should shut down, we’re staying open,’ says Thea Holden, 27, co-owner of EmpoweredFit.
She and business partner Chris Ellerby-Hemmings have sunk their savings and their souls into this airy industrial unit, complete with £400,000 of state-of-the-art machinery, all of it spaced well apart in separate two-metre zones.
The pair have also spent thousands on new ventilation systems since the pandemic began.
As we talk, one of Thea’s members, offshore rig worker Peter Hughes, 56, emerges happily perspiring after a long workout.
‘I was reading a story on MailOnline today about a gym holding out against these rules and then I saw that it was my gym and I thought: “Hooray for them” and came straight down here,’ says Mr Hughes.
It does seem absurd that Stephen Hampton can sell me a fine £7 piri-burger and fries plus a huge glass of beer but I am then banned from sweating it off in Thea Holden’s fully-ventilated gym.
For now, these remain just some of the baffling facts of life under Scouse arrest.
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