As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the Council and its committees have been holding virtual meetings. For the Malvern Area, these have generally been run either through the support of the Wychavon District Council webcasting facility or as a Zoom meeting which has been simultaneously broadcast via YouTube on the Malvern Hills District Council YouTube Channel.
For all of these meetings it is helpful to also access the agenda and other documents which can most easily be done from this page. From here one can choose the relevant committee and see the schedule of meetings and access the various documents.
Recent meetings have included an MHDC Extraordinary Council Meeting on 6th May 2020 using the Wychavon facility to confirm the appointment of the new Joint Chief Executive (MHDC and Wychavon share services with a Joint Chief Executive). There was a meeting of the Northern Area Planning Committee of the MHDC also on 6th May 2020. This again used the Wychavon facility. More recently there was a meeting of the Southern Area Planning Committee of the MHDC on 20th May 2020. This was conducted with the councillors and officers on Zoom but broadcast via YouTube and you can find in on the YouTube Channel linked above.
Having now listened and watched three of these virtual meetings, they seem to be working relatively well. Some years ago I used to be involved in weekly (and often daily) quite long technical video conference in my working life and it takes considerable discipline and practice to get the best out of the medium. Councillors (like MPs!) may occasionally forget that they are speaking in public when in a room at home distant from their colleagues, and some are clearly taking a little longer than others to get to terms with the technology, particularly for voting. On the positive side, potentially more members of the public might actually get to see their Councillors discussing matters of concern than if they had to make a specific journey to go and sit quietly in the public seating area. Furthermore, the fact that the meetings are available as recorded webcasts enables one to view them in one’s own time and get a much better idea of how discussions may have developed and decisions arrived at. Typically, the minutes of the various council meetings tend to record the decisions rather than the discussion leading up to the decision. On the other hand, whereas previously the public could notify in advance that they wished to speak on a topic and then could make a (short) presentation, this is now done entirely by sending in a prepared written text which is read out by an officer. Consequently there is no way to respond to any late changing information or dialog as a result of any other statement. The other big disadvantage, that is inevitable at the moment, is the lack of social interaction. Attending a meeting is a good way to meet councillors and officers and have a few moments of conversation after a meeting. Furthermore, verbal communication is not the totality of communication and actually being present and seeing speakers and observing their body language can provide much more insight than the bald words spoken. Video conferencing doesn’t really provide that experience in the context of the systems used here. Overall the experience is, inevitably, somewhat sterile.
Southern Area Planning Meeting, 20th May 2020
This was a meeting which as Chairman of the Planning Sub-Group I would have attended in person had times been normal. The first item under consideration was for the new QinetiQ / Malvern Hills Technology Park shared reception building. This will provide a reception for QInetiQ and the new industrial facilities being built on the sold-off part of the QInetiQ site. The Civic Society had two principal concerns. The first was ensuring that the building adheres to the guidance provided by the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for the colour and materials. The second related to access from Geraldine Road which was shown to be opened up to the new Reception and potentially the rest of the new industrial estate and housing. The original plans only showed a footpath through to Geraldine Road. Our concerns were that this would increase traffic around the school, encourage more parents to drop children at school on their way to work and generally increase the traffic in the area.
Since we submitted our comments there has been a proposal for a barrier to be added North of the Hub to prevent through traffic once the access from Longridge Road becomes available. I believe the intention is to ensure that all of the traffic for QinetiQ and the Industrial Development enters via Longridge Road. The continuing development of this access will be something that the Civic Society (and I’m sure others) will continue to monitor.
One of the councillors was surprised to see no comments from neighbours. She was worried about Longridge Road becoming the major access to QinetiQ and a cut through to Geraldine Road, although the barrier should stop the cut-through.
All of the Councillors who spoke were supportive of the new reception building. Only one raised the issue of a green roof that had been mentioned by the AONB (and in our comments). The officers emphasised that the AONB guidance on colour and material would be enforced but the Green Roof was outside of the brief.
There was a lot of talk about the many jobs that would be generated (although, of course, QinetiQ has been reducing jobs which is partly why the space is available for the residential and industrial development).
The application was unanimously passed. The Civic Society will keep a watching brief on the development (as we also will do on the rest of the former QinetiQ site).
The second application that was under discussion was in West Malvern and involved the removal / repositioning of a Malvern Stone Wall to provide parking. We had discussed this within the Civic Society planning committee but did not submit any comments. The officers had recommended refusal on the grounds of the significant amount of Malvern Stone Wall frontage being lost and the change to the street scene. There was also the issue that this would make further applications more difficult to refuse. All of the Councillors who spoke were in favour of the application which was passed with a significant majority.
Stephen Goodenough, Chairman, Malvern Civic Society Planning Sub-Committee