It was recently announced that:
“Councils will not be able to hold virtual council meetings after 6th May after the Government refused to budge on changes to legislation.
“In a letter to council leaders late last night [25th March], local government minister Luke Hall said the Government had ‘concluded that it is not possible to bring forward emergency legislation on this issue at this time’.”
Two problems arise from this as far as our borough council is concerned. Firstly, the council chamber ventilation is too limited to guarantee the safety of councillors during Full Council meetings, particularly if members of the public are also present. Secondly, the chamber is not large enough for social distancing to be maintained on such occasions.
The council has therefore reviewed alternative ways of holding meetings after the 6th May ‘deadline’.
The most obvious option – using the theatre – has been ruled out. Council meetings can continue late into the evening, and there is not enough time to sanitise the upholstered seats and remove empty crisp packets and discarded pop-corn afterwards, unless cleaning staff are paid extra to work late into the evening.
Several other possibilities have been considered, but they have also been rejected for a range of reasons. Finally, it was concluded that the council’s Main Square car park could be a satisfactory meeting venue. ALL council meetings will therefore be held on part of one of the car park’s upper floors, which will be kept vehicle-free in weekday evenings. The car park has more than sufficient air flow, and councillors can maintain effective social distancing by each one sitting in their own allocated parking space. (The space will be provided with a chair and small table, of course.)
A bonus of making this a permanent arrangement is that the council chamber can be converted into a food bank for the increasing number of residents who are unable to pay their council tax.
In view of the poor acoustics of the car park, individual councillors will be unable to be heard by their colleagues. This means that contributions ‘from the floor’ will become a thing of the past, shortening meetings considerably, and improving their efficiency as a result.