COUNCILLORS have spoken out against a change in procedure at planning meetings that “threatens localism and democracy”.

Elected members of the East, Mid and West planning committees will no longer be allowed to ask follow-up questions of parish council representatives, or local members of the public who attend the meetings to speak in objection.

The decision was made by Cornwall Council’s Constitution and Governance Committee as part of a review of how planning applications are dealt with.

While the change may have been aimed at saving time in meetings, East Cornwall’s councillors are concerned about the consequences.

Speaking at April’s East planning meeting, Councillor Andrew Long (Callington and St Dominic), raised his objections.

“They’ve made a decision that I believe takes away some of the democratic right that we had, over the quasi-judicial decisions that we are making,” he said.

Most planning applications in Cornwall are decided under delegated powers by individual planning officers. But larger-scale projects, or those where there are significant concerns from local councillors or consultees, are debated and decided by a committee of members.

“Councillors need to be able to ask questions for clarification of any speaker,” Cllr Long continued. “This decision was made with no reference to the 30 or 40 members of planning committees in Cornwall who now have to follow this action through.”

Chairs of each of the committees were consulted, said East chairman Nick Craker (Liskeard), who added he had raised his concerns at the time.

Cllr Jane Pascoe, who also represents Liskeard, and sits on the East planning committee, said she had reacted in the strongest terms after hearing of the restriction.

“The local knowledge of parish councils is helpful when weighing up the material considerations. It is absolutely essential that we should be able to ask questions to a representative attending on their behalf.

“I know that parish council take their responsibilities for considering planning applications very seriously, they study the plans, visit or view sites, study the policies and conduct an unbiased debate at their meetings. This involves considerable work and much of their voluntary time, and sometimes it is an uncomfortable decision.”

Cllr Pascoe is chairman of the South East Cornwall Community Area Partnership (CAP), which comprises 29 parishes.

She said she would be seeking the view of all the parishes at the next CAP meeting on June 4.

She continued: “The chairman of Cornwall’s Constitution and Governance committee graciously listened to our concerns and immediately acknowledged the far-reaching consequence of the decision. He has agreed to take our views back to the next meeting of the committee.”

Cllrs Long and Pascoe now hope that the decision will be reversed – but as it stands, the change in procedure cannot be changed back within the next six months.