Concerns have been raised that developers are “assaulting” Uttlesford’s countryside as the council’s blueprint for 14,000 homes is delayed for a second time.

Uttlesford District Council says more work needs to be done to complete its Local Plan, and has paused its current published timetable.

The publication of the first draft of the plan was delayed in June for the council to consider the addition of a new site and was expected to be published next month.

Now the council’s Lib Dem and Green opposition says it could be as late as February 2023 until a draft is published, warning this could leave the district unprotected against speculative developments and cause “irreparable harm”.

The district council has twice failed to pass a Local Plan, and was designated, the equivalent of being placed in special measures, earlier this year over the number of major planning applications overturned at appeal between 2018-2020.

In a statement, council leader Petrina Lees (Residents for Uttlesford, Elsenham and Henham) said it would be “reckless” to push forward with an incomplete or incompletely evidenced plan.

She said: “It was hoped that the council would be ready to publish the next local plan draft for review over the next month. I am sorry to have to share that there is more work to be done before that can happen.

“A draft Local Plan is far too important to rush, and I will settle for publishing nothing less than a document which demonstrates that the district’s draft policies will live up to the standards that our residents deserve, addresses the real infrastructure requirements, and will also meet the technical requirements of the government’s Planning Inspectors.

“Residents are aware that since 2019 UDC has been undertaking a significant improvement programme in its planning capability. To create better outcomes, we have already put in place a number of process and recent team changes, and it will take time for these to bear fruit. We will continue our work on it and will bring forward a new Local Plan timetable over the coming weeks.

“Notwithstanding the frustration a delay may bring – and I wish to thank everyone who is working so hard on it – we have to get this right.”

Lib Dem and Green Alliance leader Melvin Caton (Stansted South & Birchanger) said in a statement the original cost of producing the plan was £7million but this would increase because of the delays.

He said: “We were promised three months ago by the R4U administration that the plan wouldn’t slip any further, now it looks like it could be February next year when the draft will be published.

“This further delay before the first draft of the plan goes out to consultation will have unwelcome consequences – developers will continue their assault on Uttlesford by submitting further speculative applications whilst the Council has an out of date plan and no five-year land supply. This assault will cause irreparable harm to our district.”

Councils are required to pass Local Plans, which give them control over growth and set out how they will achieve government housing targets.

According to the council statement, the plan needs to identify land in which 14,000 new homes can be built in the district over the next 20 years.