COUNCIL bosses have slammed proposals to alter the way in which planning applications are dealt with.

Witham Town Council is strongly opposed to Braintree Council's plans to modify the scheme of delegation within the planning department.

The existing scheme means any objections raised by a parish or town council in the district means a planning application must go before a committee.

But under new proposals, the chair of the planning committee would decide if an application should be decided by officers or councillors on the committee.

Braintree Council says the changes will help to speed up the planning process.

A report outlining the proposals states that town or parish councils have only attended 22 per cent of meetings where an application they have objected to is being discussed.

Concerns were also raised in the report about the number of minor applications being referred to the planning committee by councils.

But Witham Town Council has labelled the changes a "democratic absurdity" and says it is impossible for the authority to offer its support.

A spokesman added: "Witham Town Council sees this as an absurd proposition that will effectively empower a district council officer to direct district planning chairs/vices to overrule the concerns of the local, democratic organisation without appropriate resolution or debate.

"The basis of this argument in the planning officer's report frames town and parish councils as contributing nothing more than vexatious and frivolous objections with no follow up at the planning committee – an argument that has no evidence or basis.

"Supposedly, only six visits have been made by all parish and town councils over the selected time period, but our records show that at least four of these were from Witham Town Council. The statistics are either incorrect, or poorly kept.

"Witham Town Council denounced this archaic process some time ago as a pointless exercise, as town and parish councillors are afforded no extra courtesies than anyone else in attendance, and their views are not subsequently debated by the committee."

A three-week consultation on the proposed changes to planning delegation is due to begin on October 26.

In response to Witham Town Council's rejection, a spokesman for Braintree Council said: "We’re proposing a review of the current scheme of delegation with the aim of making the process clearer for applicants, agents and members of the public. If the proposed changes are agreed, it will mean that the planning committee can focus on the more significant planning applications.

"Parish and town councils play an important role in their communities especially when it comes to planning.

"Like all consultees the parish and town councils have an opportunity to submit detailed comments to any planning application and this process will be unchanged. Indeed the review sets out new opportunities for parish councils to get involved in the planning process at an earlier stage which will mean developers better understand local sentiment and need leading to better quality applications and developments.

"At present applications are automatically reported to the planning committee when a parish council’s view is contrary to the officer recommendation.

"We are proposing now that instead a decision will be made by the chair of the planning committee as to whether an application is reported under those circumstances.”