The government has published a draft statutory instrument to enact measures to allow planning committee meetings to be held remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, as part of the government’s emergency Coronavirus Act, changes to the law were introduced that would allow councils to hold virtual planning committee meetings in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
However, the measure required secondary legislation to be introduced before it can come into force.
Is this really what local councils across the country wanted – we ask? Wouldn’t it have been sensible in our hour of need to commit council workers to support the community?
Does the Honourable Jeremy and the Hon Angela concur with a Government that wants controversial planning applications being considered, effectively behind closed doors? Oops, forgot – he’s busy shouting for more testing, despite failing a test run for a pandemic in 2015/16 when he was S of S for Health! As for Angela – she says she is busy being a “keyboard warrior,” no ‘Street Championing’ for her she did all that in the election!
We can hear the whoops of joy from the shove and shunt brigade eager to start digging when the country is in a hole. In fact the biggest hole since WW2 – and even then we knew where the enemy lurked, and it wasn’t on our supermarket handles! How does the public make representation in person?
Do we all go on Houseparty? Zoom? Skype? Do councils have the necessary technology? It’s difficult enough to get a decent webcast in normal times. One that starts at the beginning, and operates throughout effectively at ‘Your Waverley.’
So as from Saturday, the Government has ruled the following. And councils will no doubt be forced to obey, or… what? Find its funding reduce even further?
Commenting on the regulations, planning barrister Chris Young QC, of No5 Barristers’ Chambers, said they provide “remarkable clarity” in relation to the acceptability of remote attendance and use of video-conferencing and live webcasts.
“To some extent, they bring the antiquated planning system kicking and screaming into the 21st Century,” he said.
Well, of course, he would wouldn’t he? After all Chris Young earns squillions at public inquiries on behalf of the shove and shunt brigade. How much nicer to have it all conducted with as much ‘remote attendance’ as possible. Even the pesky public, who don’t possess the technology could be ruled out and stay – locked-down – forever.
Young highlighted section five of the regulations which makes clear that any reference in other legislation that local authority meetings must involve persons being present in the same place can now be met by councillors attending remotely, provided four conditions are met.
These are, that members in remote attendance must be able at all times “to hear (and where possible see) and be so heard (and where possible be seen) by the other members in attendance”; to “hear (and where possible see) and so be heard etc, by any member of the public entitled to attend the meeting”; and “to be heard (and where possible be seen) by any other member of the public so entitled who are present or accessing the meeting remotely”.
In addition, members using remote access “must be able to hear and be heard by any other member in remote access”, the regulations say.
Young also highlighted sections 13, 14 and 15 of the regulations which define a meeting being “open to the public” to include access through remote means including video-conferencing, live webcasts, and live interactive streaming.
He said that, these “are important not only for local council meetings, but what they also suggest is acceptable for other public forums in planning such as planning inquiries and hearings and, potentially, public consultation”.
Young said he would expect to see the regulations in force by the end of this week or the start of next. In fact it starts on Saturday.