PROPOSALS to merge two committees, responsible for deciding contentious planning applications, have been heavily criticised.

Councillors refused to approve the changes, after they heard criticisms that there had been no consultation on the changes, and that it could lead to members of the public feeling excluded from the planning system.

There are currently three planning committees in Bradford Council.

The Regulatory and Appeals Committee decides on major applications - such as large housing schemes and major business developments.

There is also a Bradford Area Planning Panel and a Keighley and Shipley Area Planning Panel, which deal with smaller applications that have attracted either six objections, or have been referred to the panel by a local Councillor.

Under new plans, these two area planning panels would become one, which would meet every three weeks and comprise of Councillors from across the District.

The Regulatory and Appeals Committee discussed the changes at a meeting on Thursday, and had been advised to approve the changes.

Julian Jackson, Assistant Director for Planning, Transportation & Highways said the single panel would lead to more "consistency" in planning decisions, would reduce pressure on planning staff and save the taxpayer thousands each year.

The Committee heard that under the current system, each panel Chair receives £12,970 and each Panel member receives an allowance of £2,965.

Merging the committees into one would result in a potential saving of seven allowances totalling £30,760, the Chair and six members. Due to the extra workload, the deputy chair of the new, single committee would get a £7,411 allowance. The potential saving would thus amount to £26,314 a year.

Mr Jackson said that on average the Keighley and Shipley Panel discussed just four applications per meeting, and the Bradford Panel discussed five.

Around 95 per cent of decisions were made by planning officers under delegated powers.

Councillor Anne Hawkesworth (Ind, Ilkley) said: "I don't know if members are aware of the lack of goodwill towards Bradford Council in Ilkley - I don't think Bradford Council's reputation has ever been as low as it is now."

She said under the plans Ilkley residents would have to travel into Bradford to hear discussions about Ilkley planning matters.

Mr Jackson pointed out that the meetings would not only be held in Bradford, and meetings dealing with applications from the North of the district could held in a "sensible location."

Councillor Paul Sullivan (Con, Bingley Rural) said the proposals were an example of the "Bradford bubble" - Bradford Council prioritising the city rather than the outlying areas.

He added: "This is flying in the face of localism.

Helen Kidman, chair of Ilkley Civic Society, said she was "very concerned" about the plans, adding: "It moves planning further away from the public."

Members of the Committee also criticised the plans. Councillor Mike Ellis (Cons, Bingley) said: "I look at this and I can't believe it is being put before us. I cannot and will not support this, it is just sticking two fingers up to elected members and members of the public."

Councillor Geoff Reid (Lib Dem, Eccleshill) said: "I wouldn't have expected a full public consultation on this, but I would have at least expected you to have spoken to town and parish councils."

The committee voted not to make any changes yet - but instead take the proposals to consultation with town and parish Councils, as well as parties like Civic Societies.