A change in the law is urgently needed to ensure that virtual planning meetings in England can continue, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) says.
The RTPI’s comments came following the publication of a High Court judgement that found that references to 'meetings' in the Local Government Act 1972 can only be interpreted to mean 'in-person meetings taking place at a particular geographical location'.
Emergency coronavirus legislation which permitted local authority meetings to be held remotely will expire on 7 May.
RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills said:
"The RTPI calls on the government to introduce primary legislation as a matter of urgency to allow virtual meetings to continue while also exploring how a hybrid model could operate. Virtual meetings have been shown to deliver cost savings and there are many examples of how they have increased participation rates in the democratic process. Bringing these benefits to an abrupt end would be a huge retrograde step, slowing the decision-making process while many lockdown measures remain in place.
"More broadly, the Planning White Paper in England proposed harnessing digital technology to improve the planning process to engage communities and mitigate climate change. RTPI research conducted with Grayling found that over half of the UK public want to be involved in changes to their local community post-pandemic.
"The RTPI believes that virtual meetings as part of a hybrid approach could be the key to unlocking wider engagement in the planning process, while also encouraging a more diverse group of people to stand for election as councillors."