Councils would be forced to act on issues where petitions are submitted that have more than 200 signatures under new proposals to devolve power to voters. The Times

Communities secretary Hazel Blears is to publish a consultation paper detailing new rights for petitioners to affect council policy.

Blears said that if petitions had more than 200 or 300 signatures councils would be required to respond, either by changing policy or giving a full explanation of why the request was turned down.

She also wanted to consult about the type of response that a petition would trigger. ‘I’m not suggesting an automatic change of policy – democracy defined by Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is no democracy at all. But . . . there’s a very strong case for the council to take a hard look at their policy,’ she said.

In some cases a request would go to the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, which would ask external experts to resolve the issue. If councils refused to act or respond they could be taken to court by residents.