Parish council meetings could be 'held in a car park' if Zoom option scrapped

Colney Heath Parish Council has condemned plans to scrap virtual meetings

Colney Heath Parish Council has condemned plans to scrap virtual meetings. - Credit: Google Streetview

Parish council meetings could be held in a car park or in breach of social distancing restrictions if Zoom alternatives are scrapped.

The government has revealed that virtual council meetings will be scrapped after May 7, and has issued updated guidance designed to ensure meetings operate safely and securely.

But parish councillors in Colney Heath say they have no suitable venue to allow for social distancing restrictions.

Chair Peter Cook said: "The choice not to extend the current legislation for parish councils to be allowed the choice to hold virtual council meetings shows contempt and disrespect to parish councillors on a staggeringly out of touch scale. 

"Parish councillors are unpaid volunteers who are closest to the electorate and have not been consulted at all. All our council meetings will now have to be held contrary to current social distancing rules as they must be attended physically in person.

"Our parish does not have a venue capable of hosting nine councillors, the clerk and members of the public complying with the law. We would have to meet in an open air location such as a public car park."

Council leaders across the country were informed of the decision in a letter from local government minister Luke Hall on Thursday.

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Mr Hall highlighted the progress of the vaccination programme and the roadmap for the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, as well as pressures on the legislative programme.

“Councils continue to play a vital role in our response to the pandemic and I am grateful for how they have used emergency powers introduced a year ago to continue to operate at a difficult time.

“As the vaccine roll-out continues and restrictions are lifted, councils holding face-to-face meetings from May 7 are being given the support and guidance they need to do so in a safe and secure way.

“I am keen to hear from councils and local residents about their experiences of virtual meetings so that we can properly consider whether to make these a permanent option.”

Mr Cook added: "The benefits of virtual meetings over the last year have been significantly higher public attendance and greater participation particularly on planning matters; those who are less mobile and with full time caring duties have welcomed the involvement opportunity afforded; and councillor attendance has been higher for those who work away from time to time."