Havering councillors pondered “shields” as protection in town hall meetings

Security “sheilds” were considered by a Havering Council committee last week in the latest move to separate councillors from the public during town hall meetings.

Proposals suggest partitioning councillors sitting in the first two rows of the main council chamber from residents sitting behind, using wooden or clear plastic barricades.

The shields would be high enough to act as a barrier without obscuring views, a report to the council’s governance committee said.

And they would only be installed during certain meetings.

A review of public access to council meetings was ordered following a serious disturbance during a planning debate in October, which saw councillors allegedly threatened both verbally and physically by riled opposers.

Since then residents have been banned from the public gallery and main chamber during full council meetings, and must watch instead from a balcony.

Cllr David Durant, of the Independent Residents’ Group (IRG), said: “The barrier would be counter-productive and more likely to incite residents during contentious meetings.”

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According to the report, the shields would also diminish the public’s ability to inappropriately “interrupt, disrupt or communicate with” councillors.

It added: “The ability of the public to appear to be able surreptitiously to contact members during quasi-judicial proceedings leaves the members, and the council, open to accusations of improper influence that would be difficult to refute.”

However, the committee - a cross party group - voted to unanimously reject the proposals on Tuesday of last week (January 17).

The IRG will call for the restoration of full public access to council chambers during all meetings at full council on February 1.