Harrow Council meetings open to the public are likely to continue to be held online until at least the start of next year, the leader of the council confirmed.

Cllr Graham Henson explained that ‘live’ meetings will only return at the civic centre when it is completely safe to do so, with next spring set as a realistic target.

He noted several factors would need to be considered – such as councillor confidence levels and national guidance on Covid-19 – before this was possible.

It came after Conservative councillor Richard Almond, who represents Pinner South ward, called on the council’s political leadership to follow the examples of faith and community groups and reopen its doors in a safe and timely manner.

“These [virtual] meetings, though better than nothing, are stilted and we don’t get any proper, lively political debate and exchange of views,” he said.

He added the suggestion of the end of the calendar year as the earliest-possible return date is “not good enough” given the importance of these meetings when it comes to council decision-making.

However, Cllr Henson said it was vital to ensure a “very safe environment” could be achieved before people started coming back.

“I do miss the face-to-face meetings of pre-Covid and that social interaction, but we are limited in our ability to do so at present by a number of important factors,” he said.

“We will, of course, keep this situation under review as local and national circumstances change, and I do look forward to the day when I don’t have to tell people to turn their microphones on.”

All council meetings open to the public in Harrow have been held through Microsoft Teams since May and can be joined either through the council’s website or a conference call link.

Last week, the Government announced that, from September 14, indoor and outdoor gatherings must be limited to six people – though places of work and worship, for example, are exempt provided safety measures are enacted.