LANCASHIRE County Council's Conservative leadership have been accused of stifling debate on major planning applications such as fracking.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised last week's decision to impose new limits on how long members of the public can speak at meetings of its development control committee.

Thursday's Full Council meeting of the authority approved new rules on its consideration of major projects including waste and minerals applications such as fracking.   

The cross-party group also adjudicates on proposals for large industrial developments and schemes such as roads and school extensions put forward by the council itself.

Now organised groups can request 30-minute presentations to make their case for or against a planning application and an unlimited number of individuals can speak for up to four minutes each.

Under the new arrangements, the half-hour presentations would be scrapped and the slots to address the committee reduced to three minutes with a maximum of 15 speakers in favour and 15 against.

Cllr John Fillis, deputy leader of the county council Labour group said: "What is this ruling group running scared of?

"There is nothing wrong with scrutiny, and public engagement in local decisions is a good thing.

"This decision limits democracy.

"It is a further blatant attempt by this Conservative administration to quash public debate of their decisions. The decisions this Council makes will be worse for it."

Liberal Democrat group leader and Pendle Rural representative Cllr David Whipp said: "This decision will stifle democratic debate at and public contributions to the committee on important issues.

"These restrictions mean that people opposed to controversial applications such as fracking, will not be able to properly make the case against them."

County council leader Cllr Geoff Driver said: "To say these changes are about stifling debate is rubbish.

"They are about streamlining the council's operations. We are not a business but we have to be businesslike.

"The current arrangements are the most generous of any county council in the country and the new ones will still be generous.

"There have been no cases in the last five years where the new rules would lave limited debate.

"They will produce better decisions by giving some order to the committee's proceedings."

Independent member for Fylde West, Paul Hayhurst, said it the week-long debate about Cuadrilla’s two fracking applications in his ward 2015 had been curtailed ''there’d have been riots'.