Redbridge Council is pushing ahead with controversial plans to change its constitution, dismissing claims they will shut out residents.

Proposals include preventing councillors commenting on planning applications if they fall outside their ward, cutting short meetings that overrun and leaving outstanding decisions to be made by council officers.

The Labour chairman of the planning committee – not an impartial council officer – would also have the power to make the final decision on whether applications or objections are considered by councillors at all.

At a meeting of the general purposes committee, Conservatives abstained from voting, claiming the new rules would put too much power in the committee chairman’s hands and open up the process to abuse.

They are also concerned limiting the length of time a meeting can go on for and pushing any unresolved applications onto planning officers to decide, would lead to decisions being made away from public scrutiny.

However, Labour councillors insisted decisions could only be made on planning grounds, not for “political reasons” and all the proposed changes to planning committee processes were to prevent the committee from going on “late into the night”.

Cllr Michael Duffell and Cllr Suzanne Nolan, of South Woodford Conservatives, said in a joint statement: “We are concerned there is still too much power in the hands of one councillor, who can veto whether anything can appear at the committee regardless of how many people object. We have always held that something as important as planning should be as open, transparent and above board with clear rules and we believe this opens the whole process up to potential bias, corruption, and not to mention political interference.”

“At the start of the meeting, the Labour group struck a more conciliatory tone saying that the proposals could have been included in a wider review of the constitution but we were dismayed as this didn’t happen and the Labour dominated committee decided to amend their own amendments without proper thought or consideration to downstream consequences.

“We are furthermore dismayed that Labour councillors intertwined the important issue of the Living Wage with constitutional issues around planning and disallowed the committee from voting on them as separate items.”

Council leader, Cllr Jas Athwal, said: “We need to trust each other more. There is no political motive here, there is no political advantage.

“We need to make decisions as fluidly as possible.

“The planning committee regularly sits until 12 o’clock at night. We’re open to legal claims if committee members are seen to be falling asleep whilst making planning decisions late at night. It doesn’t look good.”

He also explained that if members of the public have made a trip to the council to speak at a planning meeting, their applications will be prioritised by the planning committee to avoid wasted journeys.

Initially, Labour had proposed to increase the number of objections needed for a planning application to be seen by the planning committee from three to seven, but this change was dropped.

Constitutional changes that both parties could agree on included ensuring all council staff are paid the London Living Wage and all members agreed to a review of the constitutional changes in September this year.

The proposals will now go before a meeting of the full council for final approval.