OPPOSITION councillors have welcomed the “change of tone” from “an almost Stalinist approach to debate” on the city council.

It comes after Labour councillor Tom Corbin was elected deputy chairman of the Planning Committee on Monday night.

Councillor John Walsh said: "The first two years of the Conservative administration saw an almost Stalinist approach to debate.

“During the first two years of the Conservative administration, all opposition councillors were excluded from the various working groups, and the public meetings were carefully controlled, with controversial issues being kept off the agenda and a strict whipping of councillors. This led to a great deal of frustration for opposition councillors who were only wished to represent their residents in the various working groups and debates."

Cllr Walsh added: “This downward spiral led to accusations on both sides and an unnecessary worsening of relationships between councillors and, as was seen last autumn, the administration lost touch with city residents when it proposed to move the tourist office.

“The arrival of a new leader has not just seen the lights being left on in the Market Square, an inspired move, but a greater involvement of opposition councillors in the work of the council, culminating in the appointment of Cllr Tom Corbin to the Planning Committee as the vice chairman.

“I for one am now looking forward to serving out the remaining two year of my appointment, as I feel in Cllr [Jeremy] Nettle I have a leader I can work with.”

Newly elected deputy chairman Cllr Corbin, put forward by Conservative Cllr Atiqul Hoque, said: “It's definitely a change [in tone], and it's a refreshing change from where we’ve been over the last couple of years. Under previous leadership, things were a lot more strained, so it is a very nice change of heart."

He added: “Their choice to support me shows regard to my level of interest in planning issues that affect Salisbury.”

Councillor John Farquhar, chairman of the Planning Committee and a Conservative councillor, said there had not previously been a problem in working relationships between the two parties, but welcomed the appointment: “Labour has normally been involved in the processes over the two years I’ve been part of the administration, particularly on the Planning Committee, where hard work is perhaps less visible. “I was delighted at the prospect of having Tom as my deputy, so was supportive and welcoming when his name was mooted, and pushed for his election.

“We all want the best for the people of Salisbury and Tom has the talent and drive to make a significant contribution.”

“I also think the people of Salisbury want to see their Councillors working together to resolve the issues with which we are confronted”

Leader, Cllr Nettle said: “I am delighted that the Planning Committee elected Cllr Corbin to the position of vice chairman.

“During my 2 year tenure as chairman of planning I recognised and welcomed Cllr Corbin’s knowledge and contribution on planning matters.

“As a parish council we have the opportunity to maximise individual councillors' skills.

“With Cllr Farquhar and Cllr Corbin we have an excellent leadership in planning.”