Chaos as KCC prohibits face-to-face meetings and online is ruled out

Nusrat Ghani
SAFETY MEASURES: Councillors at TWBC now only meet in person

A key meeting had to be called off after County Hall banned its officers from face-to-face encounters with councillors and the Borough Council was unable to hold the meeting online.

The stalemate meant a meeting planned this week of the Joint Transport Board [JTB] had to be cancelled.

On Monday [July 5], councillors at TWBC were meant to sit down with representatives from KCC for the quarterly JTB meeting.

The JTB is the only time councillors from TWBC get to discuss road and transport issues with officers from KCC, who are responsible for the Borough’s highways and byways.

Temporary Government legislation, which expired at the end of May, meant that during the pandemic both County Hall and TWBC were able to hold all meetings online.

That legislation no longer exists, and all ‘statutory’ hearings that have to be held in public cannot be conducted online. But KCC says as the JTB is not a statutory hearing, they have prevented officers from attending in person – due to Covid concerns.

Meanwhile, TWBC has now abandoned virtual meetings completely, and does not have the technological capability to allow KCC’s officers to attend a ‘hybrid meeting’.

TWBC has struggled to set up its virtual meeting system, and was criticised last year for having to hold physical meetings during the start of the pandemic, despite most other authorities having already gone online only for meetings.

Pete Lidstone, a Lib Dem councillor who sits on the JTB, says the meetings are the only occasion TWBC and KCC can get together to discuss highway matters.

“This is the one opportunity we get to talk about roads, and there were a couple of big issues we were going to discuss,” Cllr Lidstone told the Times.

“First, there is the £600,000 A26 cycle lane and what is going to happen with that. Also, we want to speak about central Government funding that is available, around £2.3billion for active travel schemes that TWBC is eligible to claim for. There is a tight deadline at the end of July for this.”

He continued: “It is just so annoying that TWBC are doing one thing and KCC are doing the other – since the pandemic we have all got used to speaking to people online, but I can have a meeting with somebody in Singapore and yet I can’t speak to council officers.”

A spokesman for KCC said: “KCC officers attend statutory meetings of the council in person as required.

“Joint Transportation Board meetings are not statutory and KCC’s current position is that, until the Covid situation is resolved, officers should continue to attend them remotely and participate via Zoom or Teams.

“This provides for an efficient use of staff time, contributes to our environmental policies in reducing business mileage, and supports better attended meetings. Indeed, many KCC committee meetings remain virtual with both members and officers in attendance.

“The arrangement for JTBs is working efficiently in other districts, but unfortunately Tunbridge Wells BC is unable to facilitate such hybrid meetings at the moment and so chose to cancel the meeting.

“We hope and anticipate that the situation will be resolved by the time of the next scheduled meeting.”

A spokesperson for TWBC told the Times: “Our policy is that all public meetings are now being held in the Town Hall. KCC’s current policy is that officers should not attend meetings in person and so this would mean they were unable to attend JTB.

“As KCC officers are an integral part of JTB it was decided the meeting should be cancelled.”

She added: “We would need an upgrade to our systems to support hybrid meetings and the options for this are being investigated.”

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