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City council 'plans to abolish area committees'
OXFORD City Council is pushing ahead with controversial plans to overhaul its decision making despite public opposition.
The authority plans to downgrade its area committees that deal with neighbourhood issues, planning applications and grants to community groups.
It would also hand greater power to councillors on the executive board, allowing them to take decisions on their own. The Labour administration said it would improve efficiency and decision making.
It also said area committees were “overly influenced” by the public on planning decisions which had lead to the council losing costly appeals.
But the council’s public consultation revealed the majority of people were against the moves and opposition councillors claimed it had been designed to centralise power within the ruling Labour group.
Public opposition to each of the changes ranged between 55 and 86 per cent.
The council executive board is set to approve the plans at its meeting tonight, but a meeting of full council would need to ratify the decision next week.
Under the proposals, the six area committees that meet monthly would be axed and replaced by area forums that would meet quarterly.
They would also be stripped of planning powers, which would be handed to two newly created east and west planning committees.
Individual councillors would also be given a £1,500 budget to spend on neighbourhood projects or holding community meetings. Liberal Democrat leader Stephen Brown said their was “no reason of justification” for removing planning powers from area committees.
He said: “It is patently obvious, by any stretch of the imagination, the public do not want these changes.
“What is the point of having a consultation and then appearing not to take any notice of it? It is all about centralising and controlling.”
But council leader Bob Price said allowing single executive board members to take “non-controversial” decisions would improve efficiency.
He said area committees were not objective enough in deciding planning applications and this had lead to costly appeals being lost.
And he added the public consultation was not a fair representation of Oxford.
He said: “The number of people who responded was about 180.
“It is not a significant proportion of the city and most of them had a vested interest in maintaining the current committees.
“The opposition parties tried to get people to write in.”