Upcoming changes to how Kingston’s neighbourhood committees decide on policy have been hailed as “more democratic and transparent” by the council.

The four neighbourhood areas, representing Kingston Town, Surbiton, Maldens & Coombe, and South of the Borough, will receive new powers in March.

The council says the committees’ new powers would allow them to take decisions on nearly all matters which fall within their neighbourhoods.

Previously, the committees had been responsible for matters including traffic management, minor planning applications, and street-level improvements.

Councillor Jon Tolley, the council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Engagement said: “The new Administration has set out to make Kingston a more democratic, transparent and listening council, where residents are directly involved in decision-making.

“Strengthening the role of our neighbourhood committees means those most likely to be affected have greater input to take part in discussion and informed decisions on local issues.

"These are steps in the right direction for better engagement across and in communities, and I urge people to take a look at what goes on at your neighbourhood committee. The new wider remit includes the development of a Local Community Plan, which will outline local priorities and drives change over coming years.

“Additionally, neighbourhood committees will be able to access funding raised through systems such as the Community Infrastructure Levy, directing funding for use on environmental schemes.

"For me, most significant is the greater emphasis on engagement and hearing local people's views.”

The new constitutional arrangements were approved by Full Council on 11 December, but only allow the four committees to make decisions relating to their own neighbourhoods, and decisions must follow council policy and not impact on other areas.

But Kevin Davis, leader of Kingston’s Conservative opposition, branded the changes as “council spin”.

He added: “This retro Lib Dem Council seems to be spending its time rehashing things from the past rather than moving forward.

“Neighbourhoods were a great innovation when they were introduced 25 years ago but times have changed and we need to find more modern ways of engaging with residents when they want to be engaged, not wasting resources on what we know will not work.

“If they really believed in devolution they would be enhancing the budget we give to individual Councillors to work more closely with their ward community. That is true devolution.

“Instead, they are trying to centralising those budgets and pretend that yet more Council meetings is the way for a modern Council to run itself."