Councillor calls for bigger meeting room to be more Covid-safe
- Credit: Denise Bradley
A councillor has claimed the clinically vulnerable are "being left behind" following a dispute over where to hold parish meetings.
Debra Reay, 63, was elected on to Ixworth and Ixworth Thorpe Parish Council in May 2021 and has been a regular at parish council meetings, but feels it is currently unsafe for her to attend over coronavirus concerns.
Her partner Warren Lakin, 67, has been shielding for most of the pandemic because of his health condition - a respiratory disease - and Ms Reay cannot risk bringing the virus home.
Come winter and the Omicron variant, Ms Reay had asked the parish council to consider a new, bigger meeting place.
She claimed people like her partner who are clinically vulnerable were being "left behind" by society as Covid rules are relaxed and due to a lack of understanding.
She said: "If people have it and it's not terribly bad they think 'what's the problem?' I do think people who are vulnerable are having a particularly tough time."
She said she was "effectively excluded" from attending meetings, which are currently being held in the bar area of Ixworth Village Hall.
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Ben Birrell, chairman of Ixworth and Ixworth Thorpe Parish Council, said the parish council had complied with all legal requirements surrounding its meetings throughout the Covid pandemic.
He said councillors are summoned to attend meetings and, by definition, "cannot be excluded".
Mr Birrell said since May 2021, in accordance with government legislation, council meetings can only be held in person.
He said: "In continuing to balance the Covid-19 guidelines, and legal requirements in the way the council conducts its business, the parish council has considered the ability to change both venue and the type of room that is used for meetings.
"It is unfortunate there are no other suitable venues that are legally-compliant for council meetings to be operated at within the village.
"It is also unfortunate that the venue does not provide suitable internet facilities in order to facilitate virtual participation however myself and the clerk were exploring options to remedy this to enable the use of remote attendance for this very reason."
Ms Reay missed the January meeting and says she will not be able to attend the February meeting in the current room with her partner so vulnerable.
She had suggested a bigger room next to the current meeting place, but Mr Birrell said a room next to that was often rented to a dance group, which would make it too noisy.
Mr Birrell said in preparation for the return to in-person meetings, a risk assessment was carried out by a "qualified and competent" health and safety consultant which continues to remain valid.
Ms Reay disputes the risk assessment, as well as the assertion that there isn't another suitable location for meetings.