Hundreds of people have signed a petition urging councillors to drop plans they fear will stop residents from holding the council to account.

The ‘Stop Barnet Council from Gagging Residents’ petition has attracted more than 500 signatures since it was launched by blogger John Dix on Monday (July 1).

It calls for a U-turn on plans to impose limits on questions from the public at committee meetings, where key decisions are made about how the borough is run.

The council’s constitution committee decided in June to limit questions to one per person for each agenda item, to combine questions and comments and to allow only 100 words for each enquiry.

Conservative chairman of the committee Cllr Melvin Cohen said the move would stop meetings from being dominated by residents with a “political agenda” and allow others to take part.

It could also save the council money, as it spends an estimated £42,000 per year answering questions.

But opponents claim it will drastically reduce the number of questions they can ask – particularly on complex items like the council’s budget.

They also dispute the money-saving claims and point out it could lead to higher costs for the council if people decide to submit Freedom of Information requests instead of asking questions.

They want councillors to vote down the plans when they come before the full council for final approval on July 30.

Mr Dix, who has 33 years’ experience as a management consultant, claims his questioning has previously uncovered important information about the council’s finances.

He said: “Barnet residents have a right and a need to scrutinise the council, and these changes will eliminate that scrutiny.

“Please sign this petition to stop these changes to the constitution that will, in effect, gag Barnet residents.”

The petition is available online here.