VIRTUAL council meetings are set to start in the coming weeks with public participation via video conference promised by the leader of the council.

Planning and licensing committees will be up and running within the next month and all four scrutiny committees will meet virtually by the end of July.

All 59 councillors will be able to join the next full council meeting on July 15 – but controversial proposals to scrap free parking in Bolton town centre and axe the council’s meals on wheels service, will not go ahead for now.

The first planning committee meeting will take place on June 25 and could include a vote on major plans to redevelop Crompton Place shopping centre and Victoria Square which have been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

All meetings which are usually held in public will be available to watch live on the council’s website and arrangements are being made for members of the public to speak as objectors or supporters for planning applications.

Council leader David Greenhalgh said it is right that council business continues with its committees up and running as soon as possible.

He said: “Decisions should be scrutinised, and planning and licensing functions with full public consultation and involvement, with members of the public being able to object and support, still continuing.

“All committees will be online, and where meetings were open to the public, they will be live streamed.

“We are not reducing the number of scrutiny committees as other boroughs have done, as we feel opposition parties should not have reduced opportunity to scrutinise and hold the administration to account.

“We have worked hard to return to council business that is open and transparent, with public involvement when required and full member involvement, at the earliest opportunity.”

Council meetings were suspended in March when social distancing measures came into force and party leaders pledged to put their political differences aside and work together throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Controversial decisions, such as scrapping free parking in Bolton town centre and axing the council’s meals on wheels service, were also put on hold.

Cllr Greenhalgh has confirmed that the council does not intend to proceed with these proposals for now, but may revisit them at a later date.

Labour leader Nick Peel said the main opposition group will continue to work in a “constructive dialogue” with the Conservative-run council, but will not hold back on “strongly” challenging the Tory administration when necessary.