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Virtual council meetings should continue, say the UK’s town planners

The majority of the UK’s Chartered town planners believe that local authorities should be able to continue to hold at least some of their meetings virtually.

The finding emerged from a survey of the RTPI’s membership, part of the Institute’s response to the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government’s call for evidence on local authority remote meetings.

The RTPI’s survey asked for members’ views on the use of arrangements which allowed local authorities to hold meetings remotely or in a hybrid format in England until 7 May due to the coronavirus pandemic.   

90% of respondents said that local authorities should continue to have the express ability ‘to hold at least some meetings remotely’, while 88% thought the remote meeting arrangements worked either ‘well’ or ‘very well’.

The RTPI’s response to MHCLG’s call for evidence recommends a hybrid arrangement in the short- to medium- term due to the ongoing public health emergency. It also says that the ability to meet remotely should be available to planning committees permanently.

RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills said:

“The RTPI was surprised that the Government failed to introduce primary legislation allowing remote council meetings in England to continue beyond 7 May. It was disappointing because legislation had been enacted in Wales and Scotland permitting the holding of such meetings.

“Now, following the news of a four-week delay to lockdown easing, it’s more important than ever before that the government introduce legislation as a matter of urgency to reinstate the ability for virtual planning committee meetings to be held.

“This is not just a public health issue – with an increasing number of members of the public wanting to get involved in planning their local places, spaces and services post-pandemic, virtual planning committees have ensured that planning and the decision-making process have reached a wider, more diverse audience.

“The use of remote local authority meetings in the long-term would also lead to a reduction in the overall need to travel, therefore helping play a role in achieving net-zero targets.

“Further, it may go some way to attracting a wider diversity of councillors who may find virtual attendance at Council meetings more convenient.”

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