A move to a single planning committee at Horsham District Council has been strongly opposed by members.
The council’s governance committee has carried out a review of the current system, which has two planning committees - one each for north and south.
A number of its recommendations, including mandatory planning training for councillors, were accepted by Full Council.
However the two most contentious changes were strongly rejected on Wednesday night (April 24).
The first was to move to a single committee and the second was to raise the number of public objections needed to call-in an application to committee from the current eight to 15.
Currently all 44 councillors sit on either the north or south planning committees.
A move to a single 18-strong committee would mean some wards would not be represented, a particular concern for many members.
Trudie Mitchell, from Horsham Denne Neighbourhood Council, felt the difference between north and south was ‘extremely important’, while the Horsham Society’s Ron Bates argued all wards should be represented on a planning committee.
Meanwhile Rudgwick resident Paul Kornycky argued against ‘unfairly raising the democratic bar for residents’.
However Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry), leader of the council, proposed they stay with two planning committees.
He suggested the current arrangements would be ‘more understood by the electorate and the best way of proceeding’.
Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) felt the two halves of the district had very different characteristics and different demands from residents.
He added: “This [the current system] is exactly the right formula that suits us.”
Mr Dawe’s proposal was approved by 32 votes to zero with three abstentions.
Michael Willett (Con, Steyning), chairman of the governance committee, explained that many of the changes were about ‘not expending valuable resources on straightforward applications’.
He said: “It might appear we are trying to reduce democracy, but planning decisions are made on planning policy and law and not on the majority of people that propose or object to something.”
Several members pointed out that even if the threshold of 15 objections was not reached an application could still be discussed at committee if called-in by a parish council or district councillor.
But Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West), who proposed they keep the threshold at eight, felt to up the bar to 15 would be ‘quite wrong’. He added: “Eight has been working well and I see no reason to change it.”
He pointed out that the figure of eight objections had been agreed by councillors just two years ago.
David Skipp, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “This is not something we should be discussing on the hoof. It does seem ludicrous that we had a figure of eight which was decided and has worked very well. It seems crazy we suddenly start fiddling around and plucking figures out of the air.”
Toni Bradnum (Con, Nuthurst) felt a change to 15 would be ‘totally undemocratic’ and would significantly impact more rural areas.
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater) said the most important thing was for objections to have to raise material planning considerations and be from different households, with an increase to 15 ‘probably a step too far’.
Mr Mitchell’s proposal was agreed by 29 votes to three.