AN EXPLANATION of why council meetings are still taking place wholly remotely was given to Powys County Council’s planning committee.
At their meeting on Thursday, September 30, the council’s head of legal and democratic services, Clive Pinney told councillors that the equipment needed to allow return to the council chamber in Llandrindod Wells could not be installed until January 2022.
The issue that some councillors are unhappy with having council meetings online was highlighted at a meeting of the planning committee earlier in September.
Mr Pinney said: “The risk assessment by the property team bearing in mind the current state of high infections in the county still indicates that the maximum number of people in the chamber is 19.
“This causes a problem for most committees and in particular the planning committee.
“We have ordered new equipment which would allow us to have blended or hybrid meetings with some members in the chamber and some at home or in another place.
“We are told by the suppliers that they cannot actually fit it into the chamber until January.
“Until then we do not have the facility for hybrid meetings.”
He added that a period of testing and “understanding” how the technology works would then need to take place.
“I know it’s not what some wanted to hear but that’s the situation,” said Mr Pinney.
Cllr Gwilym Williams and members of his family were hospitalised due to coronavirus earlier this year.
Cllr Williams said: “I would err on the side of caution and support hybrid meetings, it’s too risky to go in the chamber.”
“The infection rates in Powys is at its highest since this started, you may not get hospitalised like I did, but the risk is still there.”
Cllr David Selby saw issues with hybrid meeting and was happy with wholly online meeting.
Cllr Selby said: “I don’t regret the fact that I’m talking to you on a screen.”
“Hybrid meetings is not going to be a panacea and don’t mean we’re all going to go to the chamber, we need to accept a different way of working.”
“We have to embrace the fact that all of us are not spending hours driving around the county.”
Cllr Phil Pritchard had pushed for a vote on the issue at the last planning meeting
Cllr Pritchard said:”We’ve had plenty of time to get something organised, I know all councils are asking for the same equipment, but I wish the council would cancel all meetings until the end of January.”
Cllr Pritchard added he’d already started to cancel membership of some of the council committees he is part of.
Committee chairman Cllr Karl Lewis supports a return to the chamber partly because of the interaction the committee has with the public.
People and their advocates get the opportunity to speak for or against planning applications at meetings.
Cllr Lewis said: “I personally feel we’re doing them a disservice.”
He asked whether there had been any feedback from the public about remote meetings?
Cllr Lewis was told by council officers that feedback was generally positive or negative, depending on whether the committee had agreed with the views of that person had on the planning application they had an interest in.