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Virtual council meeting held to decide not to hold virtual council meetings

PUBLISHED: 12:29 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:52 23 April 2020

Norwich City Council's planning committee met using Zoom. Pic: Dan Grimmer

Norwich City Council's planning committee met using Zoom. Pic: Dan Grimmer

Archant

A virtual meeting of Norwich City Council’s planning committee was held - to decide not to hold virtual planning committees during the coronavirus pandemic.

The council’s committee met using teleconferencing application Zoom to discuss how planning applications will be dealt with during the outbreak.

With social distancing in place, physical meetings are not possible, but the government has made clear planning decisions should be made.

But with some of City Hall’s planning officers redeployed to work to support people during the crisis, the committee voted to rule out decisions being made by virtual meetings.

Instead, the bulk of decisions will be made by officers using delegated powers, while major decisions will be decided by the committee chairman Keith Driver or vice chair Marion Maxwell, if Mr Driver is not available.

However, opposition Green and Liberal Democrat councillors were not happy with that approach and had called for virtual meetings to be held.

Judith Lubbock, Liberal Democrat councillor for Eaton, said: “We are not happy at this being left to a few individuals. It is not good for democracy.

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Nigel Utton, independent councillor for Thorpe Hamlet, said: “It’s a dangerous departure from democratic norms. The actions we agree in planning could be there for hundreds of years.

“What the government is calling a crisis - and I have different views on that, medically, - should not stop us doing that.”

The Norwich Society and the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England had called for virtual meetings to continue.

But a proposal by Sandra Bogelein, Green councillor for Mancroft, to keep convening them in certain cases, such as when called-in by a councillor, was defeated.

And Roger Ryan, Labour councillor for University, said: “These are extraordinary measures at extraordinary times. People are dying in their thousands. This is not the time for us to talk about garden extensions and conservatories, but about saving people’s lives and feeding them.”

Planning officer Mark Brown said officers could decide not to use delegated powers for particularly contentious decisions,

He stressed it was a temporary measure and the committee agreed to review it in three months, although some councillors had wanted an earlier review.

It was the first time the city council has held a virtual meeting using Zoom. At one point, a photograph of a cat flashed up on the screen.

The meeting was being held for a second time after it emerged a previous meeting had jumped the gun, before new regulations were introduced.


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