A COUNCIL which has cancelled about 30 decision-making and service-shaping meetings involving its elected members over the Covid-19 outbreak has announced the democratic process will resume next month.

Darlington Borough Council will hold its first public meeting for 100 days on June 25, when the 22 Conservative, 19 Labour, three Liberal Democrat, four Independent and two Green members will be invited to attend the authority’s annual meeting either in person or virtually.

While some neighbouring authorities, including North Yorkshire County Council, have already relaunched some meetings using online platforms, few councils have announced plans to get councillors together in a room to debate issues.

To accommodate all 50 members, as well as some officers, while following social distancing rules, the meeting will be held in the Dolphin Centre’s sports hall.

While for the first time in living memory the meeting will not include its traditional ceremonial features, such as the bestowing of the mayor’s chain of office, it will see Councillor Nick Wallis hand over the role of mayor after an unprecedented single term of more than 15 months. If tradition is followed Cllr Wallis will be succeeded by deputy mayor, Councillor Chris McEwan, by coincidence also a Labour Haughton and Springfield member.

Other council meetings, involving fewer people, will be staged in the town hall’s council chamber to enable people to social distance.

Cllr Scott said: “We have been keen to restart meetings as soon as practically possible, but it has proved complicated due to social distancing requirements. Now we are starting to reopen the town centre it is appropriate that we also hold meetings. We have wanted to be as open as we can be and let people know exactly what is going on and that’s something we want to continue.”

Cllr Scott added it was important that councillors who needed to continue shielding themselves due to health concerns would be given the opportunity to participate in meetings virtually.

Referring to criticism that councils were given the power to hold public meetings virtually on April 4 and that both the House of Lords and House of Commons had been holding meetings since April 21, Cllr Scott said Darlington’s priority had been to ensure its residents, businesses and staff were as safe as possible, particularly over the town centre reopening plans.

The authority’s Labour opposition leader, Councillor Stephen Harker, said he welcomed the return of meetings as there were important questions that needed raising over aspects of the council’s work. He added: “I am a bit disappointed that compared to a number of neighbouring authorities we have been a bit slow off the mark in resuming the meetings - we are one of the latter ones. However, the council is doing its best to accommodate everyone’s needs.”