SOME councillors in Monmouthshire will be able to return to the council chamber as the authority trials a new way of holding meetings over the coming months.
The decision comes as some members voiced concern over the ‘rigid’ nature of online meetings, with concerns they lack the ‘ambience’ of the council chamber.
Councillors on the democratic services committee agreed to trial holding ‘hybrid’ council meetings over the coming months at a meeting on Monday.
The plan will see up to eight councillors and three council officers attend socially distanced at County Hall in Usk, with other members joining the meeting remotely.
A representative of each political group will take up one of the seats, along with the chairman/woman of the committee and the remainder left for members unable to join remotely under the plan.
Cllr Dimitri Batrouni, leader of the council’s Labour group, said he supported bringing some councillors back into the chamber.
“Online meetings seem to be very heavily weighted towards the administration in terms of being a very rigid, structured process where democratic expression seems to be a bit sterile, or formulaic,” he said.
“The chamber is the only way you create that democratic ambience for challenging the administration and holding them to account.”
Conservative councillor Jamie Treharne also backed the plan, saying that he missed “the buzz” of entering the council chamber.
“As convenient and easy virtual meetings are, for me it’s walking through that door into the chamber that somehow makes it more real that I’m a councillor,” he said.
The move to holding hybrid meetings is expected to be a long-term switch, as from 2022 councils will be required to allow members to attend meetings remotely.
A Monmouthshire select committee will trial the system in the coming months, before it is potentially used for more meetings in the future.
“This is not a short-term fix for coronavirus,” said John Pearson, local democracy manager at the council.
“This is a long-term process that we’ve got to think of embedding into our usual meeting practices.”
Councillors also gave their support to continuing to hold more online meetings where appropriate.
Cllr Martyn Groucutt said there were instances where it made more sense to hold a meeting online, such as when it would otherwise require long journeys.