'Less time shouting into one another’s faces without masks on'

A legal challenge to the new lockdown rules, and the rest of our Monday briefing

Dear Millers — this is a slightly shorter Bank Holiday briefing, including our Things To Do this week, some great reads, and details about the next phase of lockdown easing.

If you missed our weekend read, it was Sophie Atkinson’s wonderful interview with the Manchester author Jeff Noon. It’s very well worth a read.

This week’s weather

The location of this forecast is Manchester and it’s sourced from the Met Office.

The big story: Next phase of the roadmap

Top line: Boris Johnson is expected to speak to the nation later today, revealing how the next stage of the government’s roadmap to unlock the country is going to proceed. That’s the ‘Step 2’ phase that is supposed to kick in from next Monday.

The details: This is how the government’s website describes this latest phase:

Step 2, which will be no earlier than 12 April, will see the opening of non-essential retail; personal care premises such as hairdressers and nail salons; and public buildings, including libraries and community centres. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms will also reopen (but only for use by people on their own or in household groups); as will most outdoor attractions and settings including outdoor hospitality venues, zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas. Self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, can also reopen.

Hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors at Step 2 and there will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks and no curfew, although customers must order, eat and drink while seated (‘table service’). Wider social contact rules will apply in all these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households.

The latest: The prime minister said he would give businesses at least a week’s notice before they were allowed to reopen, hence why he is speaking today. Reports this weekend suggested he will also announce a “traffic light” system that allows Brits to go on holiday to specific countries from May 17th.

  • The Sun reports: “Summer holiday hotspots will be ranked under the lights system — letting Brits fly to "green" countries with low Covid rates and strong vaccine rollouts.”

  • Covid-19 ‘passports’ might be required at live events and festivals, but won’t be necessary to go to pubs and restaurants, it is being reported.

There’s a legal challenge ongoing from Greater Manchester’s so-called ‘Night-Time Economy Advisor’ Sacha Lord, the founder of The Warehouse Project and Parklife festival, challenging the government’s decision to open non-essential retail before indoor hospitality.

  • This weekend, Andy Burnham tweeted seemingly in support of the legal challenge, telling his followers he has “never understood” why shops are seen as lower risk. Many of his followers did seem to understand. “Less time shouting into one another’s faces without masks on,” replied one of them.

The mayor’s team told us that Lord is acting in a private capacity as a businessperson when we asked about the legal challenge recently. They also told The Mill:

The Mayor wants to see the Government publish the evidence and the reasoning behind its decision to open non-essential retail before hospitality. He believes hospitality venues have the potential to put in place more structured and regulated Covid-secure measures than non-essential retail, and in Greater Manchester many did so at great expense before the second wave of the virus.

Home of the week

This lovely two-bed cottage in Hazel Grove, Stockport has a communal garden but it’s just a short walk from Torkington Park. It’s on the market for £165,000.

Tune in…

Tomorrow at 10am you can hear The Mill’s founder and editor Joshi Herrmann on ALL FM (96.9 FM and online), talking about local journalism and some of the stories we’ve published so far. Don and Mike, who present the Desert Island Discs-style show, have informed us that one of the chosen tracks has been scrudbbed from the tape by the Station Controller on account of its inappropriate lyrics. “We do think, however, that the attempt to include Wagner and gangland Grime on the same show was a first for ALL FM,” Mike writes.

Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: There’s good news here — new confirmed cases are falling properly again, down 21.9% to a rate of 72 across GM in the past week. The rate across England is 40.7, down 27.7%. See our graphic below, made for us by our clever friends in California, HiGeorge.

  • Hospitals: There has been a very small uptick in Covid-19 hospital admissions, up from 46 to 55, but the level of admissions is still very low, as we told you on Thursday. Last week there were 56 Covid patients in critical beds across GM, down from 66 the week before.

  • Vaccinations: 1.2 million people in GM have now been vaccinated with a first dose, that’s 50% of adult residents, according to the GMCA’s revised calculations.

Five stories worth reading

1. Remembering a great pit

“The Roger seam, you could be mining it in Moston or Ashton,” one former miner says. “You could go as far as Moston, which was five or six miles away, then they had a tunnel to Ashton Moss, which was about seven miles away.” That’s from an interesting piece in the MEN about the former Bradford Colliery, once a big employer in the area where Manchester City is now based, which quotes former pit workers at length.

2. Counting the cost of cladding

The Telegraph has an interesting story about why homeowners in the North are being hit harder by the cladding crisis in relative terms — because the costs of removing bad cladding are about the same across the country. If prices fell by the value of the average cladding remediation bill, the share of affected homeowners in negative equity would be 50% in Manchester, research shows. “In east London, however, where the median flat price is £335,038, the share would be just 2.3%.”

3. The imagination of Jim Ramsbottom

“Jim Ramsbottom was no angel, but I would stand in a queue as long as Deansgate, just to be in his shining company a few moments longer,” writes the great Manchester critic Phil Griffin in Place North West. The piece remembers Ramsbottom, a man who helped to bring new life to Castlefield and “dreamt of transforming Castle Street into the Camden Lock Market of the North”.

4. Welcome to medieval Moston

“A ghost story was recounted centuries later that Captain Halgh still roamed his former home and the estate with his phantom dogs. It was noted; ‘many a Moston man has spent the night at a neighbouring inn rather than pass the hall late at night’”. That’s from a great post about the history of Hough Hall in Moston by the MMU historian Thomas McGrath. We like his blog so much we’ve signed him up to write for The Mill.

5. Writing with MS

“When I got home I googled ‘famous writers with multiple sclerosis’ and Joan Didion was the only recognizable name on the list. I was annoyed that she has relapsing-remitting MS, with symptoms that come and go, and hurt her, but don’t ruin her.” M.J. Hyland, a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester writes about life with Multiple Sclerosis in a 2012 piece for Granta.

Ideas from elsewhere

We thought every week we would recommend a story or two about how cities around the world are dealing with some of the challenges we face here. This week’s story is from the New York Times. “I’m very sensitive to the whiteness of us all,” says Frederica Sigel, a member of a local community board in Soho, New York. The piece looks at how a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood is balancing the interests of wealthy homeowners with the need for affordable housing.

Things to do this week

Podcast | We enjoyed listening to this 2015 BBC Radio 4 program ‘The Manchester Ballads’. Folk singer Eliza Carthy visits Chetham's Library to find out about nineteenth-century broadside ballads, and to see if she can find a new song to perform. Listen here.

Watch | The Modernist Society has produced a short film series exploring Manchester’s architecture. Featuring Daily Express building on Great Ancoats Street and Sunlight House in Quay Street. Watch them here.

Half-term ideas:

  • For the little ones: The National Trust has created some fun activities to do. Play ‘Sounds of Nature’ bingo in your garden, at the park or when you’re out and about or take part in ‘Blossom Watch.’

  • For literary lovers: Take a virtual walk around Elizabeth Gaskell’s house on Wednesday. Learn about the house and the people who visited, including the notoriously shy Charlotte Bronte. Book your place here.

  • For the curious: Manchester Museum from Home wants to ‘entertain, educate and spark joy and wonder’. Take a peek here.