- Options Available for a Right to Speak
- MS Teams Software
- Useful Tips in Preparing for the Meeting
- During the Meeting
- What Happens if Something Goes Wrong?
This document has been prepared to assist the public and any other interested parties in the participation of virtual Planning Committees at Bassetlaw District Council as a consequence of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Virtual decision-making was introduced to maintain economic prosperity and to allow development proposals to proceed with Planning Committee allowing Members to continue to make democratic decision making in the public domain whilst remaining socially distanced and/or able to participate if shielding. In order for this to occur, legislation has been amended to ensure that meetings are able to be held virtually in this manner during these challenging times and this extends to details of the participation of others in the meeting.
The new Regulations, entitled ‘The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020’ or more commonly known as the ‘Coronavirus Act 2020’, enables virtual Council meetings of all committees to be held until May 2021.
Prior to this, it was not legal for decision making to occur without Members making decisions present in the room. Communication has been had with the Planning Advisory Service, the Planning Officers Society, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the neighbouring authorities to Bassetlaw in the production of this assistive protocol.
The legislation permits local authority members to attend meetings remotely, either by phone or video link in order to minimise exposure whilst assisting participation from elsewhere. The basic requirements are that members can be heard and can hear others, with video links only required where practicable.
The legislation extends the definition of the "place" where meetings can be held to include digital or virtual locations like web addresses and telephone conference calls.
Committee members attending remotely must be able to hear each other, as well as applicants, third party representees and council officers. However, Members must only hear members of the public and other third party representees if they are registered and entitled to speak at the meeting.
General interest (this refers generically to the public who come to listen in the public gallery) must able to hear what is going on, and the meeting should be ‘open to the public and accessible through live webcast/streaming. The meeting can then be regarded as ‘open’.
Remember, in accordance with the ‘Speaking at Planning Committee’ existing procedures, speakers are limited to three minutes speaking and to one per group on a first come first served basis. In order to speak, you must have made representation during the planning appraisal process.1 Groups are as follows:
- Applicant or Agent
- Neighbourhood Planning Group
- Parish Council
- Ward Member(s)
- County Council
Bassetlaw District Council has opted to use Microsoft Teams as the software of choice for virtual meetings given that it is free for members of the public to download and offers a good level of security for all.
In order to participate in the virtual Planning Committee meeting, one option open to interested parties is to download MS Teams from the internet.
If you are able to do this and participate in the meeting (instructions later in document on attending the meeting), this will enable you to speak for three minutes and to be seen live streamed on social media at the relevant time.
Should you wish to participate using MS Teams, Planning Services will need to know no less than two days before the Planning Committee.2 They don’t need to know the content of your speech, just your desire to make one.
Speakers using MS Teams are prohibited from uploading images and the Facilitator of the meeting will not enable that function.
If you cannot access MS Teams or prefer to submit a 300-word statement this is an alternative for public engagement. This should be received by Planning Services no less than two days before Planning Committee 3 and will be read out on your behalf during the live streamed meeting. 300 words equates to approximately a single side of A4 and the time taken to read such a length of wording is around three minutes.
If you are able to record an MP3 or other audio file and email to Planning Services no less than two days before the Planning Committee,4 the Council has the ability to upload this to the presentation so this can be played at the appropriate time of the meeting. Your recording must not exceed three minutes after which length of time it will be turned off.
You will be sent a link in an email that will enable you to access the MS Teams meeting. At the time of the meeting simply click on the link to join the meeting.
Once you have clicked on that link, it will take a few seconds to open a page and you will see another page with your image in the middle and the name of the meeting. Click on the Join now button in the centre of the page.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be sat in a virtual lobby waiting for the Facilitator of the meeting to invite you in. This may take some time dependent upon the number of items on the agenda, so please be patient.
Whilst you are waiting in the virtual lobby, you may wish to watch the meetings progression which can be accessed through the link on the Councils Planning pages where you will be taken to YouTube and the meeting will be viewable through live streaming.
Once accepted into the meeting, the Chair will introduce you and invite you make your three minute speech. Once you have started, you will be given a 30-second remaining notice and at three minutes, the connection will be terminated. Three minutes is not a long period of time, so it is a good idea to prepare your speech in advance of the meeting.
As a speaker, it is important to ensure that you are able to access the meeting. A checklist of questions you may wish to run through beforehand could be:
- Are you clear on how to access the meeting?
- Has your laptop / other hardware got a camera?
- Does your microphone work?
- Does your headset work (if using one)?
- Do your speakers work (if using those)?
- Is your IPad / Laptop fully charged and working appropriately?
It is advisable that you trial MS Teams beforehand so you are comfortable with the use of the software.
Ensure that you position yourself in the viewing frame so that Members/viewers can see your shoulders and face.
Where possible, it is advisable to remove other electronic devices from the room in which you are located, or switch them off. There is a potential for interference and/or feedback during live streaming arising from electronic equipment. Of particular note is the potential for slow connectivity when large amounts of the bandwidth are taken by other device users in the household (if at home), especially those who may be active on gaming equipment.
MS Teams can host up to 200 participants in a meeting and the Planning Committee meeting has only a relatively small circle of actual participants, but dependent upon the speed of your domestic connection, there could be connectivity issues. It is noted that this occurs in some of the rural areas of Bassetlaw in particular.
Ensure that all phones, landline and/or mobiles are switched to silent throughout the course of your participation in the meeting so that you can be heard clearly.
Have a look at where you are planning to access the meeting. The environment should be quiet with no interruptions. You may to consider how you can prevent interruptions from others in the household. A sign on the door is useful and/or verbal notification of the event.
Can you be seen clearly? If you sit next to a light, is there a brightness that glares in your face obscuring the viewing frame. Viewers will want to be able to see who you are. Is there glare from a window behind you?
The meeting will begin promptly at 6.30pm so it is advisable that you are sat in the virtual lobby awaiting access at that time.
- 12 x Planning Committee Members, inclusive of the Chair and Vice Chair (unless any apologies are received)
- Lead Planner – this is the Planning Development Manager and presenter of the agenda items
- A 2nd Planner who is likely to present another item and as a backup in case of technological issues
- Council’s Solicitor – the Council’s legal representative
- 2 x Committee Clerks – the Officer taking the notes of the meeting and a backup in case of technological issues
- Facilitator – the person who manages the IT process
- The Caster – this is the person who is managing the broadcasting of the live streaming process
- Any Speakers, at different times throughout the meeting
Members of the public who do not have a Right to Speak will not be able to interject in the meeting, as they are unable to take part in the virtual meeting – much the same as the viewing gallery in traditional Planning Committees. They can however view the proceedings, as the meeting is live streamed through YouTube, which can be accessed via the Council’s website. This accords with legislative requirements.
If your connection drops away from the event, you can resume by going back to the original MS Outlook invitation to the meeting and click on the Join MS Teams Meeting link again to re-join. The Facilitator will note if you have dropped away from the meeting and wait for you to re-enter the virtual lobby where you will be admitted at the appropriate time.
If the whole meeting ceases to be live streamed due to technical issues, all reasonable endeavours will be made to resume the live streaming. The meeting should continue and the notes will be published as an account of the meeting in the case that streaming ceases for the remainder of the meeting.
There have been cases across the country where a handful of virtual meetings have had sabotage attempts by third parties where inappropriate content has been shared publicly both verbally and visually as part of the ‘Right to Speak’ process, where ordinarily third parties make their opinions heard about the proposal. The Chair in conjunction with the Meeting Facilitator may choose to temporarily adjourn the live meeting if this occurs, until the third party can be exited from broadcast. The Bassetlaw logo will be presented on the screen should this occur. This is one of the exceptional circumstances when a meeting may be paused given the legislative requirements to livestream. In this event, the Chair will reintroduce the meeting from the point it was interrupted with explanatory wording and it will continue thereafter. If you are waiting in the virtual lobby and an adjournment occurs, please remain waiting.
If you have any further queries about the participation process, please direct them to Planning Services. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01909 533533 and ask for Planning Support.
Published: May 2020
Author: Beverley Alderton-Sambrook, Head of Regeneration
Last Updated on Thursday, June 11, 2020