Under current legislation resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown, local authorities have been given permission to hold virtual meetings and there is discussion as to how this will impact on public participation. Nevertheless local plan decision-making is viewed, by many authorities, to be key to a recovering economy. Whilst many of us have used various methods of internet meetings during our private and work lives, there are a number of questions that must arise from this method of public participation for Council Meetings with the far-ranging impact of, for example, local plan decision-making.
Civic Voice are already asking members of the public throughout the country to send them any positive, negative and/or innovative views from their own experiences of such Council meetings, so please do so when you can. firstname.lastname@example.org
The following are some thoughts on the issues, a few of which I raised with David Brown of HBC/Easthants. regarding the March 2020 Meetings which were postponed owing to Government lockdown:
- Many people of a variety of ages choose not to engage with the internet whether for email or internet access. Many may have a smart phone but don't make use of all its options. They are likely, therefore, to have difficulty in being able to use it for virtual meetings. This attitude is by no means restricted to the older generation, many of whom indeed have employed the internet and emails for half their lives.
- Interacting with a mobile's relatively tiny screen is highly unsuitable and can be very tiring for Council Meetings which can extend for a few hours - some mobile phones will struggle to maintain their battery power.
- Internet service can be highly variable, depending on local demand, time of day, atmospheric disturbance. Should we be relying on this to ensure statutorily required public participation?
- Will Councils be willing to return to nomal public meetings after the necessity for virtual meetings has passed?
Arguably, local plan decision-making is too important to be held during the current stressful health situation so please let your Councillors know your views on this subject.