THERE are fears town leaders could lose their say over future housing in Halstead if a planning system shake-up goes ahead.

Moves by Braintree Council to change the district’s planning process have been slammed as an “erosion of democracy” by Halstead Town Council.

They fear the changes could see new housing developments coming to Halstead without the town having a say.

Under the current system, town and parish councils cannot block planning applications, but can make their views known before a ruling by the district council.

If towns or parishes object, applications must go before a planning committee at Braintree Council.

The shake-up would see the planning committee chairman decide if an application is decided behind closed doors by planning officers or in public by councillors.

The proposal could also see the creation of a members’ forum where developers could speak to the planning committee in the pre-application phase.

The public and campaign groups would not have access to the forum.

Braintree Council say the changes are needed because too many minor applications are going before the committee and taking up too much time.

Halstead councillors voiced fears the town will lose its voice at their town council meeting last week.

Councillor Malcolm Fincken claimed the changes were undemocratic.

He said: “The plans recently to take local councils out of planning decisions need to be fought with every weapon in the armoury.

“Under the suggested scheme, the town council would have fewer opportunities to influence decisions, and a lot would be done in secret with the chair and vice-chair of planning, who would have too much power.

“The public would also be excluded from decision-making.”

Councillor Jackie Pell agreed, saying there was “a danger in thinking that planning matters should be talked through with developers”.

The changes would only affect developments of fewer than ten homes but Mayor Mick Radley said just eight per cent of planning goes through committee and that figure would be reduced even further by the proposal.

However Braintree Council says it will mean the committee can focus on bigger applications.

A spokesman 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.”