£4,000 move to hold Derbyshire county council meetings at Chesterfield four-star hotel slammed as 'bonkers'

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A Chesterfield hotel is to play host to the next Derbyshire County Council meeting because the authority’s Matlock HQ is not big enough to provide social distancing.

Casa Hotel, in Lockford Lane, off the Brimington Roundabout, will host the full council meeting on Wednesday, May 26 from 2pm.

There will not be a virtual facility to watch the meeting remotely.

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It will be the council’s first in-person meeting for a year with the pandemic pushing meetings on to virtual platforms, such as Microsoft Teams.

Casa Hotel, ChesterfieldCasa Hotel, Chesterfield
Casa Hotel, Chesterfield

This comes after central government opted not to extend emergency legislation allowing councils to hold meetings online during the pandemic. This stopped on May 7.

Cllr Joan Dixon, the county Labour Group’s new leader, said organising the in-person full council meeting, which includes 64 councillors, an array of officers and space the public and media, is a “logistical nightmare” and “absolute madness”.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is ridiculous. We are talking about an Indian variant and yet we are having to hold a meeting in a building when we have been getting on absolutely fine over the past year.

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“Parliament has got a hybrid approach, so why can’t we? In Derbyshire, places like Buxton have snow in June and it seems crazy that you have got people coming over the Snake Pass in that weather and up from places like Swadlincote for a meeting that might only last an hour.

“I think it is a great regressive step back for somewhere like Derbyshire and it is not just the distance, but the time and the cost as well.

Cllr Ed Fordham, the county council’s new Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “I am looking forward to the Tory administration explaining why the Tory government is not letting us meet remotely.

“I am sure the leader of the council will tell us he has written to Boris Johnson objecting, although I suspect he has not.

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“It is bonkers, it is madness, particularly while people 40 and under have not yet been vaccinated. It is not fair to say local government is dominated by older people who have all been vaccinated, it also does not stop people spreading the disease.

Derbyshire County Council has confirmed that the cost to taxpayers of hosting the meeting in-person at Casa is £4,000, including room hire and the required technology equipment such as speakers and hearing loop.

A council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that the next full council meeting will be held at Casa Hotel in Chesterfield.

“We no longer have the power to hold meetings remotely and have had to make arrangements so that our council members can be physically present for the meeting.

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“Due to social distancing we are unable to accommodate all members, relevant officers and members of the public at County Hall at a full council meeting and therefore have had to look at alternative venues.”

In February, Casa Hotel made its first major step into public service through its use as a Covid-19 vaccination centre, operated by Peak Pharmacy staff.

Meanwhile, in March, owner, Steve Perez, said the hotel had been losing £30,000 a month due to the pandemic, after taking government grants into account.