This unfairness at the heart of new regulations - David Behrens

Few sights are more quintessentially English than a gathering of people in their later years, sporting Panama hats and kneeling down to roll a ball across a velvety, slightly sloping lawn laid out for the purpose in the heart of their village.

Outdoor bowls in Leeds

Actually, the enduring spectacle of crown green bowls is a uniquely Northern one, since it is practised hardly anywhere beyond the Pennines. It is to the bowling world what rugby league is to football or pigeon racing to aerial sports. That’s why there are so many crown greens in these parts.

So the conclusion by council officials in Yorkshire’s largest city that half of them should be closed has gone down about as well as having a bowling ball dropped on your foot.

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The logic on which they based their recommendation is really quite odd; there are 62 outdoor greens scattered across the Leeds district, compared with only six each in Birmingham and Cardiff. So 31 of them would be scarcely missed; that’s the reasoning. But it’s not much of a comparison, is it? It’s like depriving the people of Wales of their bilingual road signs on the basis that we manage without them in Yorkshire.

And it’s not the only injustice here. For, as several councillors have pointed out, the proposal risks making victims of people, sometimes in their 90s, with few other forms of outdoor activity or social intercourse available close to them – the very people, in fact, who we are supposed to have been protecting these last nine months.

There is then the question of money. The council’s estimate that closing the greens would save them £83,000 a year demonstrates to me only that they are paying way over the odds for their lawn mowing services. It works out at £2,677 for each green, and since the same gardeners will presumably be doing several each, someone must be literally raking it in.

Of course, the council needs to save cash. There is apparently a £118m black hole in the finances of Leeds City Hall. But the central issue of here one is fairness, and we are seeing all too little of that at the moment. Ill-considered and indiscriminate decisions handed down from on high are part of the threadbare tapestry of British life at the moment.

Nowhere is this more true than in the hospitality sector, where village inns that were already on their uppers are being subjected to the same strictures as inner-city bars where people who have already drunk too much pile inside to get drunker still.

There were 100 ways in which restrictions could have been imposed strategically and sympathetically. Distinctions could have been drawn between different types of pubs and between restaurants and cafes, and imposed in targeted locations, not across entire counties. Instead, we have the anomaly of hasty, cover-all rules which mandate that we can have our hair done at a newly-reopened salon so long as we don’t then go anywhere to show it off.

The Commons revolt on Tuesday by 78 backbenchers, including at least four from Yorkshire, will fuel the growing feeling that the current approach is the wrong one. In protecting people by punishing others, we protect no one.

Some might argue that the brewing industry is reaping what it has sown, having spent the 1990s campaigning for ever longer hours in which to ply people with alcohol, and being rewarded in spades by the deregulation wrought by the Blair administration. Those nights of binge-drinking which the always-open culture has bred are clearly not conducive to containing a virus – but most of us know them only from seeing pictures on the news. They are a world away from the cosy evenings of Christmas conviviality at our own local, and the regulators should have recognised the difference.

As it is, it’s going to be a joyless holiday for those pub workers who might have no pubs to go back to, and for those on the high street whose jobs are also at risk of vanishing in the wind.

And yet – and here is the crushing irony – even as we try to rescue whatever sensible recreation we can from our tumbleweed-strewn landscape, along comes Leeds Council to drive a coach and horses through a socially distanced pastime that is the very opposite of anti-social behaviour – not to mention one of the last avenues of pleasure for some of its most responsible residents.

It creates a playing field as thoroughly uneven as a crown green.

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