Campaigners have branded a council’s planning department “totally incompetent” after a mistake led to the decision on a controversial planning application being deferred at the last minute.

Plans to build 23 homes on land off Tey Road, Earls Colne, were due to be discussed and decided at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday.

Council officers had recommended planning permission be granted.

However the application was suddenly pulled from the meeting after it was discovered the council had failed to advertise the proposed site was outside the settlement boundary.

The last-minute change has led to campaigners in the Tey Road Action Group launching a stinging attack on Braintree Council’s planning department.

Group members, who joined together to oppose the 23-home scheme, say the delay shows the application process was not followed correctly.

Former district councillor Bernie Gaught, a member of the action group, said protestors were key to highlighting the mistakes made by officers.

He said: “It just shows how useless and totally incompetent that planning department is.

“This is the department that is blighting our district with all of these homes. We have about 300 coming to our village already.

“When you look at it, they have managed to bluff their way through a few other applications for Earls Colne but now they have come up against organised resistance they have been found wanting.

“The problem is this hasn’t been done through the correct procedure.

“They realised it was outside the development boundary and they should have advertised this properly.

“They needed to explain the exceptional circumstances why it should be approved and they just haven’t done that.

“We were ready for them and they would have had a really hard time had the meeting gone ahead.”

Group coordinator Stuart Sheehy added: “The council has a duty to be more transparent and tell us exactly what is going on here.

“The fact is, they haven’t been which is appalling.

“We felt there were a lot of inaccuracies in what was essentially a flawed report. We certainly felt there was a lot wrong with it.

“We are frustrated the meeting was cancelled but hopefully this will help to open up a proper dialogue between everyone involved, not just between the developer and planners.

“I don’t know if you can call it a victory but we would like to think our protests and general noise has helped here.

“You do wonder if it would have gone ahead and been approved if we weren’t here.”