Councils in Essex make arrangements for more online meetings

Essex County Council

Essex County Council - Credit: Archant

Essex County Council is making arrangements to extend the number of meetings they hold online.

And they are working with district, borough and city councils across the county who are considering similar measures.

ECC has already introduced virtual cabinet meetings to make immediate decisions to keep front line services operating and to respond to the coronavirus emergency.

The Coronavirus Act has received royal assent and the Regulations for Local Government subequently introduced allow councils to conduct all committees and other meetings virtually.

Previously, a meeting required a specific number of councillors to be physically present, however that requirement has been lifted.

Cllr Tony Ball, the council’s cabinet member for Economic Development said that while construction sites and new home sales had stopped during lockdown, if they delayed local plans, planning applications and similar things, it would cause problems later.

“This change to the regulations will enable local planning authorities to continue with their local plan processes and determining planning applications to maintain that pipeline.”

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ECC will hold its next Development and Regulation Committee, on April 24, online. The committee determines applications for schools, some roads, waste and minerals.

Staff at planning departments around the county have been largely working from home.

Several councils around the county are making special arrangements and trialling new technology to support their processes.

Epping Forest District Council is trialling holding cabinet meetings virtually nwith a view to rolling this out to other meetings, including planning.

Braintree District Council is working similarly. Cllr Gabrielle Spray, cabinet member for Planning, said: “For some years now Braintree District Council has been webcasting all Planning Committees.

“We are exploring ways to make the best use of the good technology we already have in place to hold virtual Planning Committees as soon as possible.”

Harlow Council has already reinstated planning decision-making using a combination of delegated powers and a remote-working committee. It is looking to set up virtual development management and licensing committees for May.