THE public gallery will be welcomed back to Bathurst Regional Council meetings this month, but it will be a first-in, first-served race to grab a seat.
The public has been locked out of all council meetings since last March as part of council's response to the COVID-19 pandemic but, with restrictions easing across the state, pressure has been increasing on council to again throw open the doors.
Public galleries have already returned in Dubbo and Orange and now Bathurst residents will be welcomed back as well, starting with the monthly meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 17.
However, general manager David Sherley stressed it would not be a free-for-all with a strict cap on the numbers allowed in the gallery.
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"According to public health order requirements, based on available space, the number of people able to attend the meeting is limited to a maximum of 12," Mr Sherley said.
"The number of tickets available to the public will be impacted by the number of council staff required to attend the meeting in the public gallery.
"A ticketing system is in place to manage the process. Tickets will be available from 10am on Monday, March 15 for the March 17 council meeting from BMEC via the website, by phone or by calling into the BMEC box office. There will be no charge.
"Tickets for future council meetings will be available to the public on the Monday of the council meeting week.
"An individual is only able to order one ticket to ensure as many people with an interest in the meeting have an opportunity to attend."
In the past, there have been months where numbers in the public gallery would not have reached the cap of 12 to be imposed by council but tickets for the March 17 meetings are expected to go quickly.
One man keen to get back to the public gallery is regular attendee John Hollis.
Mr Hollis said the closure of the public gallery had robbed ratepayers of the chance to raise concerns with councillors and put forward alternate views.
"There have been a number of contentious issues, such as the go-kart track which has been left to the lobby groups to debate rather than what the broader spectrum of the public might be thinking," Mr Hollis said.
"Without the public gallery the council is not quite as accountable and I think some of the recent behaviour might be because the public has not been there.
"These people [the councillors] are supposed to have a strategic plan for the future of our city."
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