Watford Borough Council says it will adjourn virtual meetings if technical issues prevent the press and public from watching online.

At a virtual planning committee meeting last Wednesday (May 13), a live YouTube stream went down after around an hour.

Despite the technical issues, the council chose to continue the meeting 'behind closed doors' - the stream was the only way those outside of the meeting could observe what was happening.

The only two planning applications on the agenda were decided without the press or public being able to watch live.

A scheme for 57 flats in Monmouth Road was refused but plans for 72 flats in St Albans Road near Asda were passed.

Watford Observer:

Plans for flats in St Albans on the site of a former BMW showroom were passed

Opposition group leader at the council, Councillor Nigel Bell, who sits on the planning committee meeting, described the decision to continue the meeting as "unconstitutional" and after realising the press and public had been shut out, he made a complaint to the council late on Wednesday night.

Since Wednesday's meeting, the council has now updated its virtual procedure rules.

The amended rules now state "any member of the public attending remotely should also be able to hear the debate".

It continues: "Therefore in the event, that, for any reason, connectivity is lost with the You Tube live streaming, the officer responsible for monitoring the live streaming will immediately notify the chair who will adjourn the meeting until such time as the You Tube live stream has been restored.

"In the event that it cannot be restored within ten minutes of the start of the adjournment, the chair will adjourn the meeting to another date and time."

The same will apply if a committee member loses connection.

In light of the amendment, Cllr Bell says this is a case of "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted" - he says the council's amendment shows last Wednesday's meeting should have been adjourned.

Watford Observer:

Councillor Nigel Bell, Watford Labour group leader

The council says it has made changes to its streaming system and does not expect Wednesday's issues to be repeated.

Carol Chen, head of democracy and governance said: "Transparency and democracy are key tenets of the way the council operates. We actively encourage the public to attend or view virtual meetings so it was disappointing that the live stream went down and we’d like to apologise to everyone watching.

"The meeting itself, which is run from a separate communications system, was unaffected, so everyone scheduled to speak and/or vote on the development applications was able to do so - the meeting minutes will be publicly available soon so people can track how the meeting proceeded when the link went down.

"The technical problem that caused the streaming to stop has been resolved and we have built extra resilience into our systems so we do not expect this to happen again but if it does we have advised councillors that we will stop the meeting because we believe it is important for the public to be able to see what is happening."