Hertfordshire County Council to meet in debating chamber at next full meeting for first time since start of pandemic

The county council has held the last two of its full council meetings at the Gordon Craig Theatre

Monday, 11th October 2021, 9:35 am
Updated Monday, 11th October 2021, 9:36 am

The next full meeting of Hertfordshire County Council is to be held in its usual chamber – for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The county council has held the last two of its full council meetings at the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage – in order to enable social distancing between councillors and staff.

But next Tuesday, October 19, the council will return to its usual specially-designed chamber in County Hall, Hertford.

The council will return to its usual specially-designed chamber in County Hall, Hertford

A number of smaller committees have been holding meetings in the council chamber since May – when decision-making committees of the council were no longer allowed to meet virtually.

But October 19 will be the first time that all 78 councillors have been invited to attend at the same time.

Press and public will also be allowed to attend, although space may be limited. And the meeting will be webcast too.

Leader of the county council Cllr Richard Roberts has welcomed the full council’s return to the council chamber.

“I am really pleased,” he said.

“It’s where the public business of the county council takes place – and it’s absolutely right it should take place in the same chamber it has done since the 1930s.

“To be displaced to the Gordon Craig Theatre – which was a great venue for us to hold meetings and we are really grateful to them – it wasn’t the same.

“The council chamber is the democratic heart of the county council and we are all delighted to be back there.”

During the height of the pandemic, councils and public bodies were allowed to hold all their meetings virtually, in line with government Coronavirus regulations.

But when those time-limited regulations ended in May, councils were told they would have to return to in-person meetings.

The county council – alongside Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) – had asked the High Court to rule on whether virtual meetings might be allowed under existing legislation.

But the court ruled that council meetings ‘must take place in a single, specified geographical location’.

And it suggested primary legislation would be required to allow local authority ‘meetings’ to take place remotely.

Since then the council has continued to hold the meetings of its ‘advisory’ cabinet panels virtually.

But decision-making – such as the cabinet, development control committee, health scrutiny committee and audit committee – have met in the council chamber.

Since May, meetings of the full council have been held at the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage. There have been two meetings at the venue – each at a cost in excess of £3000.