Leaders of political groups on Epping Forest District Council have met to agree special arrangements for council meetings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Steps are being taken to ensure councillors, staff and members of the public are at minimum risk of exposure to the virus while continuing to deliver leadership and key decisions.

With immediate effect meetings will be restricted to key areas including:

• Planning applications – meetings of Area Planning Sub-committees and District Development Management Committee

• Licensing – Licensing Sub-Committees to consider and approve applications for local businesses

• Meetings of the Cabinet and Council – where key council business decisions are taken will be held as required. The next meeting of Council scheduled for Tuesday, April 7 has been postponed, but the Annual Meeting on Thursday, May 21, is scheduled to go ahead. The next meeting of Cabinet will also go ahead

• Meetings of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Standards Committee will only take place if essential business needs to be discussed.

A statement on Epping Forest District Council’s website reads: “We are using technology to minimise contact between people. For many years, residents have been able to watch meetings from the comfort of their own homes via our webcasting service.

“We will now use webcasting to allow non-voting councillors to participate in meetings ‘virtually’.

“Decisions cannot be made unless a minimum of councillors are in the room but an agreement between group leaders to send representatives on a pro rata basis will minimise the risk of infection.”

Leader of Epping Forest District Council, Cllr Chris Whitbread said: “Providing support to our most vulnerable residents and business community are our priorities along with the health and wellbeing of our residents, councillors and staff.

“Ensuring we have measures in place to keep critical decision-making committees working will help to ensure our residents and businesses continue to receive the best service possible.

“I am very proud of our community. As the council has moved onto an emergency footing, the response of our residents and staff has been tremendous.

“The prime minister has described this as akin to wartime. We have not faced anything similar since 1945 and the same spirit of cooperation and mutual support can be seen everywhere.

“That is also true of the different political groups on the council. As group leaders we all understand the council’s response transcends party lines and we are working together, as are our staff and partners across the public and voluntary sector.”

Epping Forest District Council chief executive Georgina Blakemore added: “I want to pay tribute to my staff. The vast majority are homeworking or finding other ways of delivering services.

“Our Community Helpline was set up in record time and we are developing our support services all the time, especially for those more vulnerable members of our community. We are dedicated to continuing to provide the essential services our residents need.”

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