PLANS to stop well attended online council meetings by the end of next week has been described by Craven councillors as ‘uncalled for interference’ and a ‘dictat’ by central government.

During the coronavirus pandemic, local authorities have been allowed emergency legislation to hold meetings virtually online.

That legislation is due to come to an end on May 7, and unless a legal challenge to extend the regulations is successful, councils will have to return to face to face meetings.

At this week’s full meeting of Craven District Council, members were told while it waited for the outcome of the legal proceedings, it was sensible to make arrangements for a return to physical meetings.

Council leader, Cllr Richard Foster said whereas some could be held in the council chamber in Belle Vue Square, it would be necessary to seek larger premises for meetings where more members were expected to attend to ensure Covid safe social distancing.If the legal challenge was successful however, virtual meetings could continue for the time being, he said.

If the legal challenge failed, the next meeting of the planning committee on May 17 will be held at the council offices in Belle Vue Square, but an alternative venue will have to be found for the annual council meeting on May 25.

Deputy leader, Cllr Simon Myers, said it was a case of interference by central government and the council should be free to organise its own meetings in a way that worked for the authority.

He said holding meetings online meant a saving for taxpayers, because councillors did not have to drive long distances to attend meetings at the council offices in Skipton, and there was also an environmental benefit.

“This is central government feeling they have to interfere in everything. Why are we not telling them how we want to hold our own meetings. I think it is outrageous," he said.

Cllr Andy Brown said when the technology existed, it appeared a ‘very strange place to be’ to return to physical meetings, especially when some members would not feel comfortable.

Cllr Patrick Mulligan said he could not understand the dictat from government when the remote meetings had clearly worked.There had been greater advance in democracy with meetings of the council being more accessible, he said.

Cllr Andy Solloway said public attendance at meetings had never been so high, especially for planning and licensing committees.

Cllr Foster said there needed to be more discussion about the way meetings were held in the future. He could see where it would make sense for some to be held remotely, and others face to face.

He added it was clear online meetings were popular with the public. “I do think if we go back to live meetings we need to find a way of making sure they are still broadcast.”