The decision not to extend the right for local authorities to continue holding virtual meetings after May 8 was described as “horrendous” at a Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) meeting.
The YDNPA’s chief executive officer, David Butterworth, stated during the virtual full authority meeting last week that despite an extraordinary level of lobbying by local authorities throughout the country the Government has decided that virtual meetings should stop on May 8 before all the Covid restrictions are lifted.
“That’s a deliberate decision by the Government – in spite of an extraordinary level of lobbying from local authorities that they want at least the option to be able to hold meetings either face to face or via video conferencing in the future,” he said.
He explained that, at present, the timetable was for all restrictions to be lifted on June 21.
But the YDNPA has two meetings scheduled between May 8 and June 21 including that of the planning committee.
Mr Butterworth said he was not happy with the two suggested solutions put forward by the Government: either to hold meetings face to face, or for all powers and decisions to be delegated to the chief executive officer.
Of the latter he said: “I would be particularly keen that you didn’t take that approach [as it is] a serious one for democracy. Well, I don’t think it is.” He added that each local authority should be able to make its own choices.
“The decisions should be made here and not in the middle of London,” he asserted.
The members agreed with North Yorkshire County Cllr Kenneth Good that the YDNPA should write to Government ministers to ask that virtual meetings could continue after May 7, not just due to Covid-19 but also as some local authorities, such as the YDNPA, covered large geographic areas and that, during winter, it was difficult to travel.
Craven District Cllr Carl Lis said: “I think it is completely horrendous”.
He added that he was disappointed by the Government’s decision as he had hoped that the advantages of virtual meetings regarding climate change and carbon footprint would have been taken into consideration.
Member Jim Munday commented: “One of the things about virtual meetings and/or hybrid meetings is accessibility. That means that everyone within the National Park has much greater accessibility to the meetings.
“This has been noted at planning committee [meetings] since we went virtual in that we have had people who can afford half an hour to give their evidence but not a whole day to travel across the park to attend an actual meeting. So there is accessibility for people in all weathers and all times.”
One member, Ian McPherson from Sedbergh, even suggested that members of national park authorities should go on strike.
He said if members did not attend meetings the message might get through to the Government that everything was grinding to halt just for the sake of a simple piece of legislation.
ARC News Service