FURIOUS protesters have accused Bolton Council of “stifling democracy” after bosses made the decision to stop publishing objections to planning applications online.
Letters of support and objection were automatically published on the council’s website alongside consultations and details of applications.
But Bolton Council has taken the decision to axe the facility to help the development and regeneration department meet more than £2 million worth of cuts.
A Bolton Council spokesman said: “Many local authorities, including other Greater Manchester councils, have never provided this service.
“We would like to reassure the public that this does not affect the consultation process and people can still make comments on planning applications, which are considered accordingly.
“We are now looking to provide information by responding to specific requests to view third party representations.
“Advice and information on how to do this is available on our website and neighbour notification letters, which we still send out as before.
“Through-out the course of the application we will still be publishing all statutory and technical consultee responses and further information provided by the applicant, so people have as much information as possible to decide if they want to make any comments on the proposal.”
The council said the move was taken to save time and cut down on admin costs — and stressed the letters are still included in members’ bundles and available to see at the town hall.
But critics argue that viewing the letters is more time-consuming and that people are less aware when viewing an application that it has been met with local opposition.
Cllr David Wilkinson, a Westhoughton town councillor who served on Bolton Council’s planning committee for 17 years until 2012, said the council was “salami-slicing” the planning process.
Town coun-cillors now have to specifically request to see objection letters if they want to take them into account when making recommendations to planning officers.
At a Horwich Town Council meeting, residents questioned how wise it was to remove objection letters during a debate on plans to develop land off Cotswold Drive. Cllr Ken Denton said: “I am aware that there are cuts being made, but this is going too far, what has happened to transparency?
“At Horwich we may not make the final decisions but our recommendations have to be taken into account and we can’t make recommendations if we don’t have the full picture.”
Cllr Wilkinson said the absence of objections may stop people from raising concerns if they think they may be the only opponent.
He added: “The reason we put stuff online is that people could not always get the papers from the town hall.
“These are public documents but no one apart from the objector or the person at the town hall will ever see them.”
The council said its One Stop Shop and Access Bolton services have specially trained staff who deal with most general planning queries and will pass more specific questions on to planning case officers.