CHANGES to public participation at council meetings ruled the conversation at the first debate chaired by Colchester’s new mayor.

Colchester Council is pressing on with changes to the “have your say” section of its meetings, where members of the public can put questions to the city’s politicians, despite opposition from campaigners.

Almost every councillor present at Wednesday’s full council meeting voted to allow no more than eight public speakers at each meeting.

Speakers must pre-register before noon on the working day before the meeting with an indication of the subject they’d like to discuss.

Gazette: Debate - the changes were discussed at a meeting at Colchester Town HallDebate - the changes were discussed at a meeting at Colchester Town Hall (Image: Mike Quinn)

But plans to ban members of the public from responding after their questions are answered were canned after the Conservative and Labour groups fought to keep a right of reply for speakers.

Lesley Scott-Boutell, who chaired the meeting after being sworn in as the mayor of Colchester, said all political groups had backed the changes.

Gazette: Meeting - Lesley Scott-Boutell (centre) is the new mayor of ColchesterMeeting - Lesley Scott-Boutell (centre) is the new mayor of Colchester (Image: Elliot Deady, Newsquest)

She said: “My understanding is this was put together and sent to all group leaders and had the backing of all the different groups before it got to this stage.”

Colchester resident Cheryl Taylor attended the meeting and told councillors the changes “threaten transparency”.

“These proposed changes could stifle public participation and erode trust in the council,” she said.

Paul Dundas, leader of the Tory group, said the changes will avoid repeats of meetings where “important council business on the agenda hasn’t been discussed”.

Julie Young, leader of the Labour group, thinks the changes are “actually an improvement”.

“There are many ways that people can engage with the council,” she said. “Of course we want to be open, transparent, and engage with our community and all of us do that on a regular basis.”

Council leader David King said the changes will help the authority “conduct its full business in a way that gives time and attention to that business”.

Committee chairmen were also appointed at the meeting, with Lib Dem and Labour councillors taking up the top jobs of most panels.

Darius Laws remains chairman of the scrutiny and crime and disorder panels, which are traditionally chaired by an opposition councillor.