Leeds Civic Hall acoustics should be improved 'so councillors can hear each other better'

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A Leeds city councillor has called for the Civic Hall’s historic council chamber to have its acoustics improved, as it is difficult for members to hear one another during meetings.

It follows a Government ruling that council meetings, having had permission to take place remotely via video conferencing during the Covid-19 pandemic, must once again take place in person.

A report published by council officers shows the response to remote meetings among council members was “unexpectedly positive”, with many wishing they would continue.

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Speaking at a meeting of Leeds City Council’s General Purposes Committee, Coun David Jenkyns (Lab) stressed that, if meetings had to take place in person, that the council chamber – which hosts larger council meetings – should have its acoustics improved.

The council chamber in Leeds Civic Hall.The council chamber in Leeds Civic Hall.
The council chamber in Leeds Civic Hall.

He said: “We had a plans panel meeting in the council chamber and it was quite hard to hear people. The planning officer said that, in 1930, they had to suspend meetings because of the acoustics not being good enough, and I don’t think much has changed.

“If there is any way the acoustics could be improved or everything being a bit louder – as we get older things get a bit more difficult.”

Leeds Civic Hall was built in 1930 by Armitage and Hodgson. It was given Grade II listed status in 1976.

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The council’s deputy leader Coun Debra Coupar (Lab) added: “With the Covid pandemic, we are not supposed to shout loudly either, because of the impact that might have on spreading infections.”

The Government announced that from May 17, all formal meetings of council committees must take place with all participants in physical attendance.

But, under Covid 19 requirements, a risk assessment needs to take place to make sure proceedings are conducted in a safe way.

This has led to Leeds City Council meetings being suspended every 90 minutes, while cleaning staff sanitise the rooms.

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To promote social distancing, meetings which would once have taken place in committee rooms have been instead held in Leeds City Council’s main chamber.

A recent full council meeting – in which all councillors and senior officers must attend – had to be held in Leeds Town Hall’s main auditorium, with some members having to sit in the dress circle.

A report, reflecting feedback from members, said: “Having the ongoing flexibility to determine whether meetings are held physically, remotely or on a hybrid basis to best suit the needs and expectations of participants would enable the council to build on the significant – and unexpectedly positive – experience of remote working over the last year.

“The benefits of having the option to use remote technology have included increasing the ease of access for elected members with other employment and/or family commitments, as well as health concerns that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

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“The number and nature of participants (particularly expert witnesses) has increased and the public have been able to access full meetings – and individual sections of meetings – more readily.”

It went on to suggest Government introduces a “local authority toolbox”, which would give them the option to meet physically, or remotely.

It claimed this would make meetings more accessible to the public, while allowing for any problems caused by future pandemics, security incidents or severe weather.

Coun Amanda Carter (Con) said: “Webcasting for community committees has been absolutely brilliant. We have more engagement from the public. It is useful that there is a public record and you can go back and look into it.”

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The findings of the report will be sent to Government in response to its call for evidence on the use of remote meetings for local authorities.

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