Rugby councillors decide to continue holding meetings in the Benn Hall over social-distancing fears

The Benn Hall offers more space, allowing councillors to sit two metres apart during meetings

The Benn Hall.

Rugby councillors have decided not to return to the town hall for full-scale meetings, opting instead to stay in the Benn Hall.

Full council meetings were moved away from the Evreux Way HQ because social distancing measures could not be put in place in the wake of the Covid pandemic - the main room at Benn Hall allows for councillors to sit two metres apart and for officers and members of the public to attend.

But at their council meeting this week (November 17), councillors considered an immediate return to the council chamber as long as certain measures were undertaken including the wearing of a face mask at all time and restricting the number of officers and public.

A report from the council’s chief legal and governance officer Aftab Razzaq also explained that an immediate return might lead to both councillors and officers feeling that they would not be able to attend because of the risk of Covid

Cllr Ian Picker (Con, Hillmorton) said: “If you had asked me 48 hours ago I would have said we should go back to the council chamber. In the council chamber we are recorded, streamed and the public can see our decisions and what was said. They can’t do that when we are here and that carries weight.

“However there are factors that I was not aware of. I can’t in good conscience support a decision that leads to anyone being excluded from the meeting.”

And Cllr Lisa Parker (Con, Bilton) added: “No-one could accuse us of doing anything that will put anybody at risk. We have done what we should and we have done it well.

“It wouldn’t be a good decision to go back to the council chamber for the December meeting. I would like to be back for our most important meeting of the year when we decide how to spend the money that is given to us and entrusted to us by our tax-payers.

"They should see how members decide how that money is spent because we do our best work when we are in daylight, in broad sunlight and on YouTube. The sooner we can get back in the chamber safely, the better.”

All councillors supported an option to hold full council meetings at Benn Hall until April with this being subject to a monthly review.

Cllr Maggie O’Rourke (Lab, Benn) insisted that councillors needed to set an example when Covid infection rates in the borough were on the increase while Cllr Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem, Paddox) added: “The message from the director of public health is that we need to continue what we are doing. It is not just about us - we have to consider everyone around us.”