New Mayor elected for Dacorum as council becomes first to return to ‘in-person’ meetings

Cllr Stewart Riddick was elected as Dacorum’s Mayor at the first 'in-person' meeting since the start if the pandemic

Dacorum became the first council in Hertfordshire to return to ‘in-person’ meetings last night (Wednesday, May 12) – after a change in the law meant councils could no longer meet online.

For the past 12 months, Coronavirus regulations have allowed councils to meet – and vote – virtually.

But on May 7 those regulations lapsed and – despite a High Court bid by Hertfordshire County Council to allow virtual hearings to continue – councils now have to meet in the same physical space.

Dacorum Borough Council

Last night Dacorum Borough Council became the first in the county to meet, since the change in the law, for the annual meeting in which the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are elected.

Partitions were removed to increase the size of the council chamber in order to enable social distancing, numbers were limited and seats were placed two metres apart.

Neither the press nor the public were allowed to attend ‘in person’ – but could watch the proceedings, by arrangement, via Microsoft Teams.

And there were changes in the proceedings such as the wiping down of the mayoral chain and the sanitizing of the Mayoral chair, as the position was passed from one councillor to another.

Cllr Stewart Riddick

At the meeting Cllr Stewart Riddick was elected as Dacorum’s Mayor and Cllr John Birnie as Deputy Mayor.

Cllr Riddick has acted as Deputy Mayor for the past two years.

He has lived in Dacorum for 43 years and has served as a Councillor for Dacorum Borough Council since 2015, representing Bovingdon, Flaunden and Chipperfield including sitting on a number of committees within the council.

After noting that it was the first time the council had met in the chamber since the start of the pandemic, Cllr Riddick said he wanted to focus on Dacorum as a thriving community.

He said he wanted the borough to be known as a place where everyone has the best start in life, where families and young people are welcome, where older people are valued and where the vulnerable can get the help they need.

Cllr Riddick said: "I would like to extend my cordial thanks to Councillor Terry Douris, for the admirable and efficient manner in which he has discharged his duties in the Office of Mayor of the Borough of Dacorum during the past two years.

"I would especially like to recognise the past 18 Months in particular during the Covid 19 Pandemic; and wish to place on record, everyone’s appreciation of his unstinting energy and sound judgment, dedication and actions during that period.”

He announced that the Mayoral charity for the next 12 months would be DENS, which supports those facing homelessness, poverty and social exclusion and whose services include a day centre, a hostel and a food bank.

During the Pandemic, DENS was only able to continue providing these essential local support services due to the generosity and donations they received from individuals and local businesses, as well as the additional support they received from a team of dedicated volunteers.

At the meeting retiring Mayor Cllr Terry Douris announced that over the past two years the Mayor's charity had raised more than £22,000 for the Sunnyside Rural Trust.

In addition he said £1101 had been raised for the Daisy Cave Foundation and £528 for NHS charities.

Meanwhile Hertfordshire County Council is already making plans for its own annual council meeting on May 25 – which will be their first meeting since the regulations changed.

They are to hold their meeting at the Gordon Craig Theatre, in Stevenage, in order to comply with Coronavirus restrictions.

But despite the larger venue the capacity will still be just 86 – just eight more than the 78 councillors elected to the county council on May 6.

Again neither the public or the Press will be allowed to attend ‘in person’ – but the meeting will be broadcast online.

The county council estimate that the cost of holding the meeting at the theatre – including the £1500 venue hire – will be around £3100.