PLANNING meetings in St Helens could soon be held remotely after emergency legislation was introduced by the government.

St Helens Council decided last week to cancel all non-decision-making committees until further notice due to stringent social distancing measures being introduced by the government to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The council had intended to still hold decision-making committees such as cabinet and planning, but they too were cancelled after the UK went into lockdown.

A council spokesman said, depending on the circumstances of the planning application, the council’s chief executive or executive director of place services could decide on applications using delegated powers.

Alternatively, senior members of the council’s planning department may decide through the usual delegations.

But in future, planning meetings and other key meetings, such as cabinet and full council meetings, could be held remotely after new legislation was introduced to help ministers deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed into law this week after being fast-tracked through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The 329-page bill gives unprecedented powers to help ministers, councils, police, health professionals and coroners deal with the pandemic.

Part of the bill contains provisions for council meetings, including those of local planning authorities, to be held remotely and without councillors physically present in the same place.

However, councils will not be able to do this immediately because they need to wait for the government to publish secondary regulation.

St Helens Council is currently making preparations to hold remote meetings, with the aim of ensuring they take place in the “most efficient and effective way”.

“For all meetings moving forward – council, cabinet, planning committee etc – the council will assess the new regulations, which are due to be introduced by the government shortly, which will allow remote meetings to take place.

“At the same time the council will be working to test/enhance its IT systems with the aim of ensuring that such remote meetings take place in the most efficient and effective way.”

The earliest remote meetings are likely to take place in St Helens is April 15, when full council is due to meet.

The council’s planning committee is due to meet on April 21, with cabinet scheduled for the following day.