TOWN council bosses in Halstead are “disappointed” after plans to streamline planning applications were given the green light.

Braintree Council has voted to delegate more planning decisions with the new system starting on January 1.

The aim is to reduce the time it takes to rule on smaller planning applications, giving the planning committee more time to focus on larger applications.

The proposal raised concerns from town and parish councillors who feared they would lose their say on planning applications.

Halstead Town Council even branded the move “an erosion of democracy” back in November.

Previously, while Halstead Town Council could not block a planning application, it could object which would automatically result in the plans going before Braintree Council’s planning committee.

Now the planning committee chairman and vice-chairman will decide if an application is decided behind closed doors by planning officers or in public by the committee.

Concerns were also raised about the introduction 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.

Halstead mayor Mick Radley said: “Halstead Town Council was very disappointed by the decision taken by Braintree Council to go ahead with changes to their scheme of delegation for planning.

“Town council unanimously rejected the scheme and raised many points of concern.”

"The proposals sought to focus more planning resource and Planning Committee time on larger planning applications at the expensive of smaller applications.

"This means that more planning applications will be decided by Planning Officers and less by the elected Planning Committee.

"Previously any objections raised by the Town Council automatically resulted in them being put before the Planning Committee to hear the concerns.

"In new scheme, for smaller applications, the decision as to whether they go to the committee is now under the discretion of the Chairman of the Committee.

"This dilutes the influence of Town and Parish councils in presenting local concerns and supporting residents.

"The report submitted to Braintree District Council councillors for their meeting on December 7 also included adverse comments from many other town and parish councils in the Braintree district as part of the consultation.

"Despite this and opposition from a majority of Halstead District Councillors, unfortunately Braintree District Councillors voted to accept the new scheme.”

However, Braintree council maintain that town and parish councils will still be able to have their say.

A Braintree District Council spokesperson said: “There was a healthy and good debate at Full Council, but members ultimately supported the proposals for the new Scheme of Delegation and we are proceeding on this basis.

“The aim of the new scheme is to make the process clearer for applicants, agents and members of the public.

"It will also mean members of our planning committee can focus on the significant and complex applications.

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

"Parish and town councils will always have an opportunity to submit detailed comments to any planning application and this process will be unchanged.”