EAST Dorset District Council set its budget and agreed to submit its Core Strategy to the Secretary of State – despite protests branding the exercise the “death of democracy”.

About 200 residents from West Parley, Verwood, Colehill, Corfe Mullen, Wimborne and Ferndown paraded to the council meeting on Monday night, carrying a Grim Reaper and a giant glowing coffin, and following a real funeral director.

Richard Heaslip, chairman of the West Parley Residents’ Association, said: “EDDC have ignored local residents’ views and opinions, including comprehensive village surveys that show the vast majority against unsound housing plans.”

He added: “The public have been gagged for nearly three years while EDDC fermented these ill-conceived plans, which will see massive housing estates dumped and squeezed into sensitive character-rich areas, with little additional amenities, roads or infrastructure support.”

The meeting was a first for the council as it was broadcast live on the internet, and 100 people logged on for the debates.

The budget will see a 1.95 per cent rise in the district council’s share of the council tax – an extra 7p per week for a Band D property.

Council leader Spencer Flower said: “Over the past two years the Government’s formula grant to the council has been cut by 28 per cent.

“A further cut in the grant of 11 per cent (£265,000) will be seen by the council in the coming financial year with further cuts planned for the foreseeable future.”

Members overwhelmingly voted to send off the Core Strategy, which means the Secretary of State will now appoint a planning inspector to carry out an examination in public to test its soundness.

Cllr Flower added: “The Core Strategy has been subject to extensive consultation and engagement over the last few years, including a 40-week consultation period, and this version of the strategy is the result of that process.

“Despite some comments to the contrary at Monday’s meeting, I am pleased to say that democracy is alive and well in East Dorset.

“Elected members openly discussed, debated and considered the decision to submit the Core Strategy at a meeting which was open to the public and where members of the community were given the opportunity to make a presentation.”