Andover Town Council may begin meeting again as soon as May 27 depending on the outcome of a court battle.

Councillors were informed at a meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee that due to the expiry of Covid regulations, they would need to hold public meetings again after May 7. Whether these would be totally in-person, or online, is yet to be decided.

Town clerk Wendy Coulter said that the town council is “looking at a number of options at the moment”, with the outcome potentially hinging on a High Court decision expected in the coming days.

In March 2020, the government’s Coronavirus Act allowed councils to ignore sections of the Local Government Act 1972 and the Public Bodies (Admissions to Meetings) Act 1960, which state that “any meeting of a body exercising public functions… shall be open to the public”.

This allowed remote meetings to be held instead, which are not specifically regulated for under the act. However, the Coronavirus Act has a ‘sunset clause’, with its legal force ending on May 7.

At present, the government does not intend to extend the provisions, citing “severe pressure” on its legislative programme. It has also ruled out passing a new law for council meetings to be held remotely indefinitely.

At a meeting of Andover Town Council’s Policy & Resources (P&R) Committee on Wednesday, April 22, the issue was discussed by councillors and offices, following the decision that the annual mayor making meeting “will need to be held face-to-face” on May 27.

Councillor David Coole queried whether this would be the case for all meetings, and if they would be held in the Guildhall.

In response, the town clerk said: “We are looking at a number of option sat the moment. We do have problems with having the meetings be covid compliant and allowing public access which is one of the main things we have to do as a parish council.

“We are checking if we can have a hybrid where we have a live feed and that seems to be the way we will be going. At the moment, being perfectly honest, that is going to depend upon the availability of the Guildhall as that is the only venue in Andover we’ve got available to do this.

“We will update members and this is part of the review we will be looking at for next week.”

She added that the council was “having a few issues with Covid regulations” but is hoping to have more public meetings from June onwards.

The final decision for where the meeting will be held may depend on a High Court battle, with Hertfordshire County Council, Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers taking the government to court to seek clarity if meetings could be held remotely and still be deemed to be public.

The case was heard on Wednesday, April 21, with a decision expected shortly.

For now, meetings will go ahead as planned, returning in person on May 27.