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London and Southeast England move into Tier 4 – What does that mean for cycling?

You can still ride for exercise – but you can't leave or enter a Tier 4 zone, and government says to stay close to home...

Reaction to yesterday’s announcement that London and much of southeast England would, from today, be subject to new Tier 4 restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus has centred on the impact on Christmas, plus a last-minute rush to leave the capital before the new rules came into effect.

Here, we take a brief look at how the new rules affect cycling, should you live in, or close to, a Tier 4 area, with British Cycling having immediately suspended all sanctioned activities in the areas affected and underlining that people there should not leave them to participate in cycling activities or events.

Currently, Tier 4 applies to Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley); Gosport, Havant and Portsmouth in Hampshire; Rother and Hastings in East Sussex; London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London); and the East of England (Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Essex excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).

The regulations themselves are yet to be published, but the Gov.uk website makes clear that people should not leave or be outside of their home unless for a specific purpose or with a “reasonable excuse,” such as for work purposes if that cannot be done for home, or for essential shopping (bike shops, as before, remain “essential” retailers).

In terms of travel generally, people are not allowed to leave a Tier 4 area, or enter one from elsewhere, except for limited essential reasons, such as work, education and caring for vulnerable people – so if you commute by bike, and have to cross the boundary between tiers, that would appear to be permitted.

As far as exercise is concerned, the government says: “People can also exercise outdoors or visit some public outdoor places, such as parks, the countryside, public gardens or outdoor sports facilities. You can continue to do unlimited exercise alone, or in a public outdoor place with your household, support bubble, or one other person.”

However, it goes on to say: “If you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live – and look to reduce the number of journeys you make overall.”

Among exceptions to that, are “Spending time or exercising outdoors,” but the government adds that “This should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your Tier 4 area to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space).”

Another exception to the ban on meeting people outside your household or support bubble in a Tier 4 area is worth noting, applying to “elite sportspeople (and their coaches if necessary, or parents/guardians if they are under 18) to compete and train.

At present there is no clarification on what might constitute “a short distance,” but one thing that does seem clear is that exercise is not included among the exemptions allowing people to enter or leave a Tier 4 zone.

With a handful of exceptions – Havant, Gosport and Portsmouth in Hampshire, plus the Peterborough Unitary Authority area – all Tier 4 local authorities form one contiguous zone around London (see above for the full list of the areas now under Tier 4).

And, other than Peterborough, which is adjacent to two Tier 3 areas to its north, and Portsmouth, with its direct ferries to the Tier 1 Isle of Wight (operator Wightlink is clear that non-essential travel is not allowed on its services), where they do meet lower-tier areas, those are in Tier 2.

So, for example, if you live in Tier 4 West Berkshire, say, riding into adjacent Tier 2 areas in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire or Hampshire is not permitted.

Likewise, residents of the Uttlesford district of Essex, which has its seat in Saffron Walden and is currently Tier 2, would not be allowed to go on a bike ride into other parts of the county, all of which are under Tier 4, nor the neighbouring district of East Hertfordshire – but they could cycle into Tier 2 South Cambridgeshire, and other Tier 2 areas beyond that.

The new Tier 4 represents the strictest measures currently applicable  in England, similar to those in the initial nationwide lockdown that started in March – the main difference being, as highlighted above, restrictions on movement into and out of some areas.

How the regulations might be enforced would be an issue for individual police forces – but we’d be surprised if at least some did not place patrols at times on boundaries between Zone 2 and Zone 4 areas, particularly on county borders, to check the reasons why people – including cyclists – are moving between the two.

British Cycling has already updated its website to reflect the new Tier 4 regulations in England. The governing body says:

Following the Prime Minister's announcement on Saturday 19 December we are suspending all sanctioned activities for adults in Tier 4 areas in England.

Staying active is important, and those living in Tier 4 areas can continue to cycle – however they must either do this alone, with members of their household/bubble or with one person from outside their household/bubble.

Those living in Tier 4 areas should not leave their areas to take part in cycling activities or events.

In Tier 4 areas organised outdoor sport for under-18s and disabled people is exempt. We are waiting for further clarity from Sport England and DCMS on this and will provide an update as soon as we are able.

We know this news will create uncertainty for many of our clubs, groups and members, and we are working hard to quickly understand and communicate the impact on our sport.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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