The measures Sunderland City Council put in place to make first 'in person' meeting in over a year Covid safe
Sunderland City Council has held its first in person council meeting for all councillors since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last March.
City leaders have met in person for the first time in more than a year, in the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Sunderland City Council shifted most of its business online in the early stages of the pandemic, with the public able to keep an eye on proceedings via live streams on YouTube.
But the Annual Meeting and Mayor Making on Wednesday, May 19, saw councillors back in a single room together – albeit with a few changes.
Rather than the usual venue in the Civic Centre’s council chamber, the event was shifted to the more spacious Beacon of Light, near the Stadium of Light, with masks mandated for all attendees, although they were allowed to remove them while speaking.
While fans of the Black Cats watched their play-off tilt begin to unravel against Lincoln City, councillors said goodbye to Wearside’s longest serving mayor since the Second World War.
In previous years this would have seen a large public attendance, with family and friends of newly-elected and departing city councillors packing public galleries.
This time, however, social distancing measures saw swathes of the venue’s indoor area left vacant, with chairs set in regimented and well-spaced rows to ensure social distancing.
Outgoing mayor David Snowdon, who saw his term of office doubled as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, paid tribute to the efforts of local authority staff who have kept services running over the past year.
And new mayor Harry Trueman, a former leader of the council, compared the rollback of restrictions to the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, adding he hoped it was attached to an ‘express train’.
Following approval of the council’s diary for the 2021/22 municipal year, local authority committees are expected to continue meeting in person, but with most expected to move to larger venues, such as the Civic Centre’s council chamber, to allow social distancing to continue.
Government legislation passed last year (2020) had allowed proceedings to move online, but this provision has now expired and ministers have refused to extend it, despite a legal challenge.