Shoppers and traders in the Sussex town of East Grinstead told today how people had been flocking in from nearby Tier Four areas to finish their Christmas shopping.
It comes as police in York slammed drinkers who also travelled to the Tier 2 city’s pubs from neighbouring Tier 3 locations after officers handed out a ‘shocking’ number of fines.
More than 160 fixed penalty notices were handed out by North Yorkshire Police to those who ‘flouted’ the coronavirus tier restrictions, with the force saying it showed that some people ‘believe their pint is more important than someone’s life’.
York is only a short drive from towns and cities in West and South Yorkshire which are under much stricter coronavirus restrictions.
East Grinstead has also been the scene of similar regulation ‘flouting’.
Local shoppers in the Tier Two town of East Grinstead, West Sussex, reported a rise in people disregarding coronavirus rules and coming in from Tier 4 areas to take advantage of open shops. Pictured: People out and about in the town
The leafy commuter belt town is located at the top of Sussex – the vast majority of which is in Tier Two
But it is sandwiched in between Tier Four Surrey and Kent, which have the most restrictive anti-Covid rules
The rules across the invisible border are extremely different, with shops allowed open on one side but not on the other
The town of East Grinstead in Tier 2 Sussex is wedged next to the borders of Surrey and Kent which are in Tier 4
The leafy commuter belt town is located along the northern border of West Sussex – the vast majority of which is in Tier Two where non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants can remain open.
But it is sandwiched in between Tier Four Surrey and Kent, which have the most restrictive anti-Covid rules and where only food stores and chemists are allowed to be open with all hospitality venues shut for the foreseeable future.
Although those living in Tier Four – particularly those a mile over the border in Surrey – have been warned not to travel following the emergence of a new particularly contagious strain of coronavirus, plenty are ignoring the advice from the government and police.
Liz Ross, who lives a mile away from the Sussex town of East Grinstead in Felbridge, Surrey, admitted breaking the new covid rules, but said it was for an essential journey.
The 69-year-old said: ‘I had to come into the opticians today because I had my glasses adjusted and so need to pick them up here.’
Life appeared to carry on as normal today in the Tier 2 town as covid cases are lower in the area
Shoppers were seen in East Grinstead buying groceries from a high street stall
There was no rules to stay at home, like there is for people in Tier 4 areas across the UK
‘This is my local town centre, I live about a mile and a half away so it’s very quick.
‘I know we are not supposed to cross into different tiers and I don’t intend to do so again but on this occasion it’s an essential journey.’
East Grinstead this morning was a far cry from the deserted streets and shut shops seen in nearby areas.
The Sussex town is only miles away from the M25 motorway ringing the capital which was plunged into Tier 4 on Saturday night.
The highest band of coronavirus restrictions meant all non-essential shops had to close and hospitality venues were also made to close their doors.
But in East Grinstead life has continued like normal under Tier 2 restrictions.
Resturants can stay open if they are serving substantial meals, and businesses and venues can continue to operate in a Covid-secure manner, according to the government website.
North Yorkshire Police said they handed out more than 160 fines to people flouting coronavirus tier boundaries by travelling from Tier 3 areas into the Tier 2 city of York to visit the city’s pubs
Pictured: Revellers enjoying their Saturday night in the streets of York
The officers said they gave many people advice about the Tier restrictions and fined those who did not go home when told
But residents are angry that people from Tier 4 are moving into Tier 2 Sussex so freely – althoug many admit there is little they can do to police it.
Tree surgeon Alex Jones, 30, from Brighton said he knew a lot of people who were regularly travelling into East Grinstead from Surrey and Kent as well as Sussex locals travelling into London.
He said: ‘I think the whole system is ludicrous and makes not an ounce of sense.
‘The border with Surrey where people are locked down is about a mile – that’s it.
‘I know plenty of people who live in Surrey who have come into East Grinstead because the shops and pubs are open.
‘This is their local town centre and they’ve been coming in for years and years.
‘Another friend of mine is heading from Sussex to Croydon in London, which is Tier Four, to see his gran.
‘He can’t see her over Christmas and so is driving there today to drop off her present and pick up his.
‘He said that he’s not going to go in to her house but do everything on the doorstep. This is what this ridiculous tier system has done to families.’
Steven Tonks, 68, added: ‘People are coming into East Grinstead from areas in Tier Four and they shouldn’t but what can you do about it?
‘We are so close to Surrey and Kent isn’t far away either and so people have always come here from those counties – nothing’s changed in that respect. You’ll always have people who ignore the warnings.’
Traders in East Grinstead, which was busy this afternoon with a steady stream of shoppers finishing off their last bits before Christmas, also voiced their concerns.
Helen Lang, 53, who manages the Good & Green health food shop said: ’I’m not against the tier system, if there has to be a boundary it may as well be along county lines – it’s just a shame that for us that it’s so close.
Tree surgeon Alex Jones, 30, (left) from Brighton said he knew a lot of people who were regularly travelling into East Grinstead from Surrey and Kent, while Helen Lang, 53, (right) who manages the Good & Green health food shop, said the Tier systejm was tough to police
Shoppers and traders were busy today in East Grinstead in the run up to Christmas
The town was busy as traders welcomed shoppers in the busy run up to Christmas Day
‘All my staff live in Sussex but a good few of my customers probably do come from Surrey, we don’t know for sure as we don’t quiz people when they come in.
‘It is worrying that this new strain of coronavirus could spread from Tier Four to here but we insist on face coverings and there is alcohol gel in the shop.
‘I would hope people would be as respectful to us as we are to them.’
Police in York said there has been no such respect shown in the Yorkshire city over the weekend.
Police and council enforcement officers said they made ‘proactive visits’ to licensed premises in York over the weekend and handed out more than 160 tickets to those reluctant to adhere to officers’ advice.
Superintendent Mike Walker said: ‘Looking at the numbers of fines handed out this weekend, which are still awaiting processing, we believe that we have handed out over 160 tickets, with the vast majority being issued to Tier 3 residents who visited York to mix and socialise indoors, which is in clear breach of their restrictions.
‘Throughout the pandemic, we have been very clear about our approach, and the action taken this weekend is evidence of it.
‘We have stated our teams would be patrolling, speaking to the public and encouraging them to adhere to the rules.
‘Where we encounter people who refuse to adhere to the regulations and believe their pint is more important than someone’s life, we will use our enforcement powers.
York is only a short drive from towns and cities in West and South Yorkshire which are under much stricter coronavirus restrictions
Police (pictured on Saturday night) handed out the fines while working with council enforcement officers
The officers said the large numbers of people breaching the regulations showed some people ‘believe their pint is more important than someone’s life’. Pictured: York on Saturday night
‘Some people who were spoken to by officers did go home.
‘However, our teams encountered large numbers of people who were not responsive to the advice, leaving us no option but to enforce through the use of fixed penalty notices.’
Mr Walker added: ‘If you choose to visit the city of York from Tier 3 areas without a justifiable reason to have made your journey, with our extra patrols, chances are you will encounter one of our officers and you’ll be asked about the reason for your visit.
‘It is our responsibility to ask those questions, to determine the truth and take the necessary action, in order to stop the spread and ultimately save lives.
‘We remain undeterred from our objective to keep the people of North Yorkshire safe.’
Denise Craghill, executive member for safer communities at City of York Council, said: ‘We want people to enjoy York safely and in line with government rules.
‘You should not travel across tier boundaries and, in York, Tier 2 restrictions must be followed: Meet only your household or your bubble, or up to six people outside.’
She added: ‘No-one in the city wants to put loved ones at risk for the sake of a night out and undo the city’s hard work and sacrifice.’
The feeling was shared by bar worker Stefan Saunders, 18, who was shopping in East Grinstead today and works in a local pub.
He said that he and other members of pub staff now have to check if customers live in a Tier Two area.
He said: ‘Am I opposed to people crossing from Tier Four into Tier Two? Yes, in principle but no in practise.
‘The police aren’t going to challenge people in the street and ask them where they’ve come from.
‘The border with Surrey is basically a set of traffic lights, nobody is going to be stopped coming into East Grinstead.
‘It’s different for hospitality, the pub where I work is regularly inspected by the authorities to make sure we are following the Covid guidelines.
‘As from the weekend, as well as asking people if they are in the same household, we have to now ask them if they come from a Tier Two area – otherwise we can’t book them in.’
Julie Knight, 46, who runs Knight Jewellers with 21-year-old daughter Lucy Jackson in the high street, also said she had already asked one lady to leave this morning because she was from a Tier Four area.
She said: ‘She came to the shop door and said “I’m from a Tier Four area so I shouldn’t really be here but I need a gold chain”.
Stefan Saunders, 18, who was shopping in East Grinstead today and works in a local pub. He has to ask if customers are from a suitable Tier when taking bookings. Liz Ross, 69, who lives a mile away from the Sussex town of East Grinstead in Felbridge, Surrey, admitted breaking the new covid rules, but said it was for an essential journey
Mother and son Holly and Archie Kessell were shopping in East Grinstead today. Holly said: ‘People are coming into East Grinstead from Tier Four areas, particularly Surrey, and I don’t think there’s much anyone can do about it’
‘I immediately instructed her not to come in and apologised and said that under the new rules we were unable to serve her.
‘She accepted that and said she’d come back in the New Year.
‘We have to be strict. Customers must have a face covering and we can only allow three people in at a time.
‘It’s hit us hard, we’ve been closed four months this year and are preparing to close down again come January when there’s more than likely going to be another nationwide lockdown.’
Herbert Sports has been in East Grinstead for 43-years.
Owner Craig Cash, 43, who bought the business in 2017, has worked there for the last 30-years.
He too was forced to turn away a customer who had travelled in from a Tier Four area this morning.
He said: ‘She seemed totally oblivious to the new rules and was confused about why I couldn’t serve her.
‘But as soon as I found out that she lived in Surrey I had no choice, it just isn’t worth it.
‘Business is finally starting to pick up after we had to shut during both lockdowns this year.
‘We are actually busier this year than last Christmas so that’s a positive.
‘The only problem is that in the New Year the country is almost certainly going to have to lockdown again and we’ve no idea for how long. We are making preparations for that as far as orders are concerned.’
Holly Kessell, 41, who was shopping with her 14-year-old son Archie, said: ‘We live in Sussex but are less than a mile from the border with Surrey.
‘People are coming into East Grinstead from Tier Four areas, particularly Surrey, and I don’t think there’s much anyone can do about it.
‘I don’t have too much of a problem with it to be honest because I think most people will be sensible, they wont leave their homes if they’re feeling unwell and if they do come into town they’ll wear a mask and keep a safe distance from everyone else.
‘My son goes to school on the border where half the pupils come from Surrey, I don’t think they’ll be back until February at the earliest.’
Restauranteur Ali Demirtas who runs the By The Fountain restaurant said the tier system was crippling his business.
He said: ‘Half my clients live in places like Felbridge, Lingfield and Edenbridge in Surrey or Tunbridge Wells in Kent – all areas under Tier Four restrictions. The restaurant is virtually empty as a result.
‘We’ve had to close for half the year already, we closed for five months during the first lockdown to get the restaurant covid safe and a month for the lockdown we’ve just come out of.
‘Before people can eat with us, they have to fill out a form asking if they’re from the same household and if they live in a Tier Four area. If they do we cannot let them in. I’ve had to turn customers away.
‘This new tier system is killing my business, after Christmas Day I’m going to close until we get the customers back – but how long that will be I don’t know. It could be up to Easter.’