CHANGES to Borough of Poole's planning rules mean applications for many mobile phone masts will never go before councillors.

Masts below 15 metres have "prior approval" status, a procedure where permission is deemed granted if the planning authority does not respond to the developer's application within 56 days.

Councillors used to have the facility to "red flag" these applications and bring them before the committee, usually when neighbours complained.

But last month it was agreed prior approval applications would be excluded from that process.

Peter Watson, head of planning, said the move had been made because these applications rarely came before committee for timing reasons. The date an application was submitted often meant the 56-day response deadline ran out before it could be scheduled for a meeting.

But Cllr Mike Brooke is fighting to have the decision reversed, and calling for extra planning meetings to make sure these applications have a chance to be heard.

"It removes the rights of the residents to see an open, transparent debate at committee," he said. "The decision will be made in a back office.

"It might be done in collaboration with a councillor, but the public won't get to see it."

He said he would be "calling in" the decision to be discussed at next month's scrutiny committee.

Steve Barker, of Sorrel Gardens, is leading a campaign against plans for a 12- metre mobile phone mast on the corner of Pinesprings Drive and Beechbank Avenue in Broadstone.

So far, 70 letters of complaint have been sent and 200 signatures gathered on a petition.

The 46-year-old IT development director said: "Residents feel this is one of the biggest planning issues affecting them. To downgrade it and remove these applications from the full democratic process can only be for the benefit of the planning committee rather than residents."

Mr Watson said the changes in the "red card" procedure simply formalised what was already being done.

He added: "Changes to the procedure ensure that informed decisions relating to mobile phone masts are always made within the correct time scales."