AN opposition leader in Southampton is backing calls for an investigation into controversial plans approved by council officers as he claims there was not democratic oversight.

Cllr Dan Fitzhenry, leader of the Conservatives at Southampton City Council, has claimed he was not consulted over the proposals to axe five trees at Marlhill Copse but he was only informed of the decision after it had been taken.

He said the decision was made in an undemocratic way and campaigners who had objected to the plans should make a formal complaint to the council.

But city council leader Christopher Hammond said the process followed by council officers was in line with the council’s constitution.

It comes as last week campaigners complained as the proposals to axe the trees on land owned by Southampton Airport were approved by council officers and not in public, despite 50 objections to the plans.

As previously reported, both the airport and the council said the decision was urgent as the trees posed a risk to the public.

Cllr Hammond said a meeting of the planning committee could not be held earlier than May 20 and experts advised that waiting created “an unnecessary risk”.

In a comment Cllr Hammond added: “This information was shared with the Chair of Planning, Leader of the Conservative Group, responsible Cabinet Member and myself to ensure democratic oversight – none objected to this course of action.”

However, Cllr Fitzhenry has claimed that there wasn’t any democratic oversight.

He has now urged the city council to publish the evidence used to make the decision and added: “I was not told about them making the decision. I was told after the decision was made without any chance to input at all. There has been no cross-party democratic oversight. It is undemocratic and disrespectful to have conducted things in this way. The leader of the council should apologise to the residents.Of course if there’s an imminent risk to public safety, we are not stating that the trees should not be chopped down but we are saying that the process has to be democratic. The council should immediately share with residents the information used to take this decision."

Hitting back Cllr Hammond said: “I said that the information was shared, and it was. The information (about the decision to allow the felling) was sent to Councillor Fitzhenry as a courtesy. There is no constitutional or legal basis for the Leader of the Opposition to be consulted on a decision that is taken under delegated powers. So the process followed by officers was taken in line with the Council’s constitution.I understand that this is an emotive issue for some people, but as a council we have to prioritise keeping people safe. Five trees which are all going to be replaced, sitting on private land, needed to be felled to stop the real danger of them falling on someone or their property.”

Last week Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith said the council should launch an investigation into how the decision was taken.