Uttlesford District Council's Local Plan - which sets out policies and proposals for new development - has been delayed again.

Opposition councillors have expressed fear that developers could exploit the situation, that delays will add to the costs and that Government could lose patience and intervene.

But the ruling party at UDC has said that a delay is the right thing to do. They need more time to evaluate an additional option.

In a statement, UDC said: "This opportunity gives members and officers extra time to review all the potential sites and further evidence base ahead of the Regulation 18 plan being published for consultation, which will be in early November.

"This is the next point at which the public and other interested parties will be invited to have their say on the plan."

Opposition councillors have warned it could now be six years until the plan is fully completed, they are concerned that costs could rise, and they claim “the damage caused will be irreparable” as more speculative developments come through.

Councillor Melvin Caton, Leader of the Lib Dem and Green Alliance Group, said the Local Plan timetable was very ambitious and the timetable had certainly slipped.

"The main goal of the council must be to get the Plan right, rather than to put out a flawed plan for consultation over the summer holiday period when many people will be away.

"Significant new sites have been identified by local landowners that were not offered in the Call for Sites earlier in the process.

"It is prudent that the council take sufficient time to assess their viability and deliverability.

"But a six-month delay before the first draft of the Plan goes out to consultation will have unwelcome consequences as developers will seek to exploit the situation by submitting further speculative applications whilst the council has an out out-of-date and no five-year land supply. The damage caused will be irreparable.

"The administration promised that the Plan would be completed within four years but now it looks like it will stretch to six years.

"The financial impact on the council will make a bad situation even worse.

"The original cost of producing the plan was originally £7m. This delay will add to the costs when the council is already looking for £3m worth of savings over the next four years.

"I just hope that government doesn’t act precipitously when the Council misses the end of 2023 deadline and seeks to take Local Plan making in Uttlesford out of local democratic control. That would be disastrous.”

Cllr George Smith, Leader of the Conservative Group, said that when it was announced a new Local Plan was being created from scratch in 2020, it was set against an ambitious timeframe.

"The Government has told all Councils without a Local Plan to get one in place by 2023.

"So this delay risks the Government losing patience and intervening on the Council, if that happens we could have a Plan imposed on us.

"That would be a disaster for Uttlesford.

"Critically, until we have a Local Plan in place the district has no realistic prospect of ending the developer free-for-all that has blighted the towns and villages throughout Uttlesford."

Cllr John Evans, the UDC portfolio holder for Planning and the Local Plan and a member of Residents For Uttlesford, which rules the council, has said taking more time is the right thing to do.

“R4U committed in its manifesto to create a proper Local Plan, with the right evidence, and putting residents at the centre.

"That is what we’re doing, and it takes time and requires supporting evidence to do a proper job.

"Taking shortcuts, without sufficient and robust evidence, did not meet the Planning Inspectors’ standards.

"Those failed plans ended up losing taxpayers millions of pounds, lost time, and has encouraged developer and land promoter ‘free-for-all’ planning applications.

"The question residents should really be asking is why are the opposition parties at UDC pushing so hard for a premature Local Plan that would benefit developers and not local residents?”

The district council has twice failed to pass a Local Plan under different administrations.

In February, the government stripped Uttlesford District Council of its right to rule on major planning applications, so schemes for 10 houses or more can choose to bypass UDC and send their proposals straight to the Planning Inspectorate.

A revised timetable is expected to be published shortly.