To consider the attached report on the venue for future meetings of the Sub-Committees.
It was noted that over the past 18 months or so, because of the pandemic, Licensing Sub-Committee meetings have been held virtually, via Zoom. This was undertaken as a necessity to enable the Council to continue to carry out its business as usual.
Since the country has opened up again and face to face meetings have become viable and, in some cases, a legal necessity, Licensing Sub-Committee meetings have continued to be held on Zoom. Members now, however, need to consider the situation and make a more formal decision on how (and where) to hold the Licensing Sub-Committee meetings.
Councillor Keska said he was an advocate for having physical meetings in the offices. He noted that they have always had four spaces set aside in the car parks for the members of a sub-committee, could we insist on this. Also, the report said that officers could not guarantee a private room for private discussions. He then noted that at a recent licensing sub-committee meeting they had technical problems from start to finish, which reflected badly on the council and may open us up to an appeal. His view was that we should get back to face to face meetings as soon as possible.
A Hendry could not guarantee that officers could book four car parking spaces for the councillors as the parking spaces would be greatly reduced in the near future. A private room can be booked if available. Before we were able to go into the Members room or the Chief Executives or the Chairman’s room but now there was no members room or other offices available. The Chairman noted that we could clear the Council Chamber to have a private discussion.
Councillor Jon Whitehouse noted that there was the conference suite available; this was a council building and if the current system did not permit us to perform our statutory functions then the system needed changing. It was a climate friendly option to have the meeting on Zoom or as a hybrid. He was keen that we had the option of hybrid meetings as it made it more accessible to people. In his experience the virtual meetings had been good, but some applicants have had to rely only on a smart phone to connect to a meeting, so it was important that applicants had the ability to request an in person hearing. But for non-contentious meetings then Zoom was a viable option.
Councillor Neville agreed that Zoom was the greener option. He noted the mandatory requirement to hold in person meetings for taxi applications. Also, he had noted that in the past meetings had been delayed because a public speaker or even a councillor had been delayed or not turned up.
Councillor Sartin said there were pros and cons for both sides. At a hybrid meeting held here last night, the officer had frozen on screen, this was a problem. We could ask an applicant to leave the chamber to have a private discussion, so she did not see the problem around finding a second space. There was always the Chairman’s/Leader’s room. Parking was a problem and we had to take this on board. However, she felt that we should come back here as there was always the possibility of Zoom breaking down and having to reconvene at a later date.
D King said it was a difficult decision. Remote meetings came about because of the pandemic which was still with us and should be kept under review. Perhaps we should treat each case on its own merit depending on the size of the hearing and if it was advisable to have it in person or on Zoom. He preferred having in person meetings and would like to revisit this again as the Covid numbers were still on the increase and that was still a factor.
Councillor Sartin commented that perhaps this was not the point when we should be making an absolute decision and park this for the time being. If there was a big application, then officers should then ask us to meet in person.
1. To carry on with Zoom meetings for now unless there was a particularly contentious application that officers felt that should be heard in person; and
2. To reconsider this at the next meeting to be held in March 2022.