CAMPAIGNERS say councils are leaving themselves open to a legal challenge over their pursuit of plans to build garden communities.

In June, planning inspector Roger Clews published a highly critical report describing the garden communities proposal as unsound and saying more work was needed.

Tendring Council's leader, Neil Stock, and Braintree council's leader, Graham Butland, have both made executive decisions to pursue the garden communities scheme.

The decisions were made before Mr Clews had sent a letter to clarify questions Colchester Council had asked.

Martin Edwards, of Cornerstone Chambers, barrister for Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex, said: "Officers are potentially misleading the public and the members as to what the inspector has recommended and leaving these councils open to further legal challenge.

"This may be due, in part, to a need to save face.

"However the public has every right to expect those preparing the statutory development plans will do so on a sound basis - as the law itself requires.

"The problem the North Essex Authorities are now in, having made so many premature pronouncements, is they have provided all and sundry with ample legal grounds to question at the appropriate time their decision making process."

Rosie Pearson, of Cause , said: "The inspector has required a fundamental rethink over two/three years.

"Why have Tendring's and Braintree's leaders made such a major decision without consulting colleagues and, more importantly, without waiting for the inspector to respond to questions?"