There has been some misinformed statements made about the decision to close the public gallery and so the following statement updates the position, including the reasons why it was closed and how long it is likely to be until the gallery can be reopened.
The decision to close the public gallery was made following a council meeting on 19 July 2017 because of a significant disturbance which made it impossible for the council to conduct important business, including the approval of a plan to tackle crime and disorder in the city. Before the meeting was adjourned, an attempt to clear the public gallery was made by council officers, assisted by the police. This was unsuccessful due to the disturbances taking place.
Following the adjournment, the police voiced concerns about the safety of the public gallery. Specifically, that if any further disturbances were to take place, the current layout and design of the public gallery made it unsafe to attempt to clear the area. Having received this advice, the public gallery was temporarily closed.
Since then, a full survey has been undertaken and we have commissioned a structural engineer to make improvements. It is expected that the public gallery will reopen in the next few months.
Public attendance is welcomed at council meetings, whether to support, protest or simply to observe proceedings. However, when a protest of other actions leads to the disturbance of a meeting to the extent where business cannot be conducted, our rules of procedure require us to remove any individual(s) causing that disturbance. It is vital that this can be done, while ensuring the safety of all.
In the meantime, we have made arrangements for the public to view the proceedings live via a video link to the Bourges Room in the Town Hall or to view the discussions and debate via Facebook Live. This has proved incredibly popular and has made Full Council accessible to a far greater number of residents who would otherwise be unable to attend each meeting and each video is available to watch again and again, rather than just at a set time and day. The average number of views for each meeting is over 5,000, far more than we could actually fit in the public gallery. Due to the success of the live recordings we will be proposing to keep this service once the public gallery is open again.