COUNCILS will have to resume face-to-face meetings this month after a legal challenge aimed at extending pandemic conditions failed.

A High Court challenge brought by Hertfordshire County Council, Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Democratic Services Officers had sought to allow online meetings to continue beyond May 7.

But Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Chamberlain dismissed it, ruling that primary legislation was required.

The move has been described as “a retrograde step” by BCP Council’s leader Councillor Drew Mellor. but he said arrangements, including the use of the BIC, were already in place to hold in-person meetings.

Emergency legislation was introduced last year at the start of the pandemic to allow local authorities to meet remotely.

It is due to expire on May 7 – the day after Thursday’s elections.

The High Court challenge sought to extend it further following concerns about the difficulty in holding face-to-face meetings with social distancing and anti-coronavirus measures still required.

Local Government Association chairman James Jamieson said the decision was “very disappointing”.

The decision also drew criticism from several members of BCP Council, including former leader Cllr Vikki Slade.

She said there were “some elements” of face-to-face meetings that had been missed but the ability to take part remotely had made them more accessible.

Cllr Judy Butt said the option for remote meetings had saved “vast amounts” of money and was better environmentally.

Cllr Mellor said “every effort” would be made to make meetings accessible.

“Ultimately, anything that reduces visibility and accessibility is a retrograde step so we look forward to the primary legislation required to host hybrid meetings,” he said. “Until that happens, we will make every effort to make sure any formal meeting of the council is able to be broadcast to the public.”

Since the merger of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch councils two years ago, the council has not had its own meeting room big enough to accommodate full council meetings.

Instead it has used a lecture theatre at Bournemouth University but concerns this would not be big enough with social distancing requirements has seen the council book use of part of the BIC.

The Solent Hall has been reserved until June 21 and will not interfere with the use of the facility as a regional mass vaccination centre.

A council spokesman said planning had been under way for the return of face-to-face meetings and that arrangements, including those for livestreaming to the public, were being finalised.