WIRRAL Conservatives accused the council of burying its head in the sand' in a row over the controversial siting of four mobile phone masts last night.

They want a change in the 56-day rule governing mobile phone company applications after a council delay in sending out paperwork notifying T-Mobile of a planning committee decision refusing permission to install masts in Pensby, Gayton, Moreton and Claughton resulted in the phone giant having deemed consent' to go ahead with its plan.

Following public outcry a report was compiled by the former Chief Executive of Bolton Council Bernard Knight which found that administrative error was to blame. Disciplinary action was later taken against staff from Wirral's technical services department.

Wirral's regeneration and planning strategy overview and scrutiny committee met at Wallasey Town Hall on Tuesday night to discuss the report's finding and four Conservative councillors were called as witnesses. But they were later barred from addressing the committee.

During a heated meeting, deputy leader of Wirral's conservatives, Cllr Lesley Rennie told the committee: "I believe that many residents have lost confidence in this council. The call-in procedure is the last shred of democracy open to us as opposition, and is the only way the Conservatives can hold this lousy Labour Lib Dem alliance to account."

Prospective MP for Wallasey, Cllr Leah Fraser who was also barred from commenting during the meeting, said: "Along with other witnesses I was gagged, Labour and Liberal Democrats want all the power without the responsibility. They are simply burying their heads in the sand and hoping this matter will go away. It won't!"

Afterwards, Moreton and Saughall Massie councillor Chris Blakeley, who was also barred from addressing the meeting, said: "On this occasion, I'm afraid the word 'sorry' isn't enough.

"The incompetence of Wirral Borough Council was compounded by the failure of the Labour and Lib Dem councillors who sat on the regeneration and planning strategy scrutiny committee, who simply ratified the cabinet decision, perhaps this apathy shows just why Wirral is only a two-star authority."

Heswall councillor Andrew Hodson said, "This is crazy. I was named as a witness because I am a ward councillor whose residents are suffering as a direct result of this council's incompetence, and yet the Lib Dem Chairman said I wasn't?

"Clearly he is out of touch with what is going on! It was clear to me that Labour and Lib Dems had got together to manipulate the witness list to their best advantage. I wonder, what do they have to hide?"

Parliamentary candidate for Wirral West, Esther McVey said: "The planning debacle here on Wirral has exposed fundamental flaws in the Telecommunications Act which I'm now seeking to challenge the government over. Why should there be deemed planning consent after 56 days' if the telecommunications companies aren't notified? It's a total nonsense.

"Should anyone apply to the council for say, an extension on their house and get it refused, you won't find you've got deemed consent' after 56 days if the council haven't notified you of the refusal, so why should telecommunications companies get deemed consent for phone masts?

"Many people have voiced their strong concerns over health issues too, which in the light of on going scientific research must be taken into account when considering mast applications. The way the law stands at the moment is an absolute outrage, riding rough shod over the community's wishes and needs. It is undemocratic and I'm working to have it changed."

Lib Dem leader councillor Simon Holbrook told the Globe: "This is a mistake that occurred 12 months ago and it's time to move on. We need measures in place to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

"Mr Knight's report found administrative errors in the handling of the planning application's refusal which have now been addressed."