Town councillors have hit out after claiming that their first scheduled meetings in six months were cancelled at the last minute by public protection officers.
On Tuesday night, Porthmadog Town Council was due to hold its first gathering since March, having moved to the Ganolfan’s largest room to facilitate what they believed would allow all 15 members and the clerk to remain safely distanced.
But despite protestations that members could safely be accommodated in a room designed to hold up to 400 people, town councillors claim Gwynedd Council informed organisers on Tuesday afternoon that this would not be permitted under public protection guidelines.
It’s understood that Penrhyndeudraeth Town Council, which was also planning to meet at the Memorial Hall after holding web meetings during the lockdown, was issued with a similar warning on Tuesday lunchtime – just hours before the scheduled start time of 7pm despite also laying on similar social distancing measures.
Members have criticised the move, however, claiming that the social distanced environment at Porthmadog’s Ganolfan was “safer than any supermarket”.
Porthmadog Town Council Chairman Gwilym Jones explained that it had not been possible to arrange virtual meetings via video conferencing as some members did not have access to such technology.
“We were told by Gwynedd Council at Tuesday lunchtime that the rules would not permit the meeting to go ahead, which is disappointing as we had some business that we wanted to discuss including a grant to benefit the Ganolfan itself,” he added.
“It had been felt that it would not be fair to meet over Zoom as not everyone could access such technology, so there was a lot of anticipation to meeting for the first time in months.
“But in fairness it is of paramount importance that we adhere to the rules and that’s what we have done.”
Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd, who sits on both the town and Gwynedd Councils, suggested contacting Public Health Wales to clarity their guidelines for such gatherings, being of the understanding that a member of the public had complained to Gwynedd Council upon learning of the town councils’ planned meetings.
“I must say that the council setting, with social distancing and markers on the floor to keep everyone away from each other, seems much safer than any supermarket at the moment,” he said.
“Fifteen people in a room designed to hold up to 400 isn’t much at all, but doesn’t really say much for democracy or the right of the people to have their voices heard.”
Cllr Carol Hayes said that she was “incensed” by the decision, adding: “Life simply has to go on and I’m so angry that this decision was made despite the clerk and the staff doing everything possible to make that room safe for everyone.
“There was no chance of anyone getting in close contact and I’m also positive that anyone showing any symptoms would not have turned up.
“It really makes no sense at all to me and begs the question when exactly will we be allowed to meet?”
In response, a Gwynedd Council spokesperson said: “We have strongly advised town and community councils to consider alternative options such meeting remotely on-line, to continue to safeguard their members and the wider community from the further spread of the virus.
“Should any town or community council decide to meet face-to-face, they will be responsible for ensuring that strict safety measures are in place.”