North Hertfordshire Local Plan hearings postponed due to coronavirus concerns
PUBLISHED: 13:27 13 March 2020 | UPDATED: 18:46 13 March 2020
North Hertfordshire’s Local Plan hearing sessions, scheduled to start on Monday, have been postponed due to coronavirus concerns.
The decision was made by government Inspector Simon Berkeley following news that at least six residents had withdrawn from speaking, and as many as 15 others were considering pulling out.
In a statement released this morning, Mr Berkeley said: 'Both the council and I have been monitoring carefully the situation and advice in relation to the coronavirus. It is my role to make every effort to ensure that the examination of the local plan is not unnecessarily disrupted or delayed during this difficult time.
'However, it is also my role to ensure that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is minimised and to keep everyone attending the hearing sessions safe.
He added: 'To ensure that everyone with a right to be heard can attend hearings safely - and to make sure that the examination proceeds as efficiently as possible given the circumstances - I have decided, in close liaison with the council, that the hearing sessions currently scheduled from March 16 to March 26, and on April 7 and 8, should be cancelled and postponed to a later date.'
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Councillor Martin Stears-Handscomb, leader of NHDC, added: 'Many local residents have been actively involved in our Local Plan examination and were due to attend or take part next week. We have liaised closely with the Inspector and support his decision to postpone the hearings. This is the most appropriate course of action at this time.'
Resident Carolyn Cottier praised the Inspector for making the 'right decision' having campaigned strongly for the safety of speakers and witnesses.
'The hearing conditions I know from my attendance in the past, are very enclosed and cramped,' she said. 'People share tea and coffee making facilities; are in each others' presence shoulder to shoulder for ten days straight, from 9am to 6pm, and the room gets very hot and stuffy.
'In light of this, it is undoubtedly the right decision to postpone these hearing sessions.'
Resident Nikki Hamilton added: 'We would like to thank the Inspector, Mr Berkeley, for making this decision and putting peoples' health as a top priority. Attending the hearings is important for us all as we have been campaigning against sites in the Local Plan for five years.'
No new dates for the hearings have been set at this time. NHDC has said they will be rearranged as a priority, once circumstances allow.
Any further updates will be posted at www.north-herts.gov.uk/localplan.