New rules limiting what questions the public can ask at Redbridge Council meetings were approved last week, despite strident opposition from Conservative councillors.
Cllr Anita Boateng (Con, Bridge) described the changes, approved at a cabinet meeting on September 24, as “the worst thing (she has) ever seen the council do”.
Councillors who approved of the changes argued they were necessary to avoid a minority of residents dominating meetings and prevent repetitive, unproductive debates.
The council can now reject questions “from voices that have already been heard within the last six months on substantially the same matter”, while questions at cabinet or committee meetings must be relevant to an agenda item.
Questions at full council meetings will be allowed on any matter. However, the next full council meeting is not scheduled until November.
Speaking against the changes, Cllr Howard Berlin (Con, Fairlop) said: “The proposed change to our constitution makes it more difficult for the public to engage with Redbridge Council.
“What a terrible way to treat our residents. The only reason why the Labour administration is doing this is because residents are increasingly fed up with the way this council is being run.”
Cllr Suzanne Nolan (Con, South Woodford) argued that residents may repeat questions within six months “because they have been ignored or no one has got back to them”.
She added: “You are restricting questions to items on the agenda but you, (Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal), control the agenda.”
A report on the proposed changes noted that, out of a population of more than 300,000, only 26 residents participated in council meetings, with seven speaking at a number of different meetings.
Speaking in favour of the changes, Cllr Jo Blackman (Lab, Wanstead Village) said: “Too often I have sat through Groundhog Day debates in the council chamber, with the same issues raised by the same people, squeezing out opportunities for other people.
“This should avoid the endless rerunning of the same debates that take us nowhere.”
Cllr Athwal added: “The thing that’s really being overlooked is that we will proactively engage with seldom-heard voices to invite them to meetings.
“This is something that has never been done. I think this (Labour) council has engaged more with its residents than ever before in the history of Redbridge council.”
The report states officers will share links to meeting agendas with faith and community groups, business improvement districts, secondary shopping centres and the voluntary sector.