The Return of In-Person Planning Committees

Friday 7th May marks the end of virtual Council Planning Committee meetings. This follows two High Court judgements confirming that online meetings will not be lawful beyond this date.

Since March last year, local authorities have been allowed to hold meetings online during the pandemic. After unsuccessful lobbying to change primary legislation to allow remote meetings to take place beyond this date, legal action was launched by numerous parties.

The court ruled that meetings held virtually are not ‘open to the public’ and attendance at planning committee meetings requires a physical presence. As virtual meetings do not allow in-person admission they are therefore not open to the public.

It seems that for now, people will still be able to dial in remotely to attend meetings, but the move back to in-person meetings throws up many questions. What are participation levels likely to be? Will new venues be needed to allow social distancing to take place? Is this a step back for local democracy?

Once social distancing measures are eased and the pandemic is just a distance memory will the technological lessons learnt over the past year be remembered? Only time will tell!

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