COUNCILLORS have rallied around their leader and given him their full support amid plans to remove him from his post.

Braintree Council leader Graham Butland received the backing of 38 councillors during a debate on his future on Monday.

The debate had been triggered by a petition calling for his resignation after the council’s plans to build two new garden communities - made up of 34,000 homes - either side of Braintree were ruled to be “undeliverable”.

Colchester, Tendring and Essex County councils had also supported the proposals.

The ruling means the Braintree district has yet to secure a housing plan - something critics say leaves the region open to speculative development.

Petitioners called for Mr Butland to “take responsibility” for the apparent failure to deliver a housing plan and step down.

But more than 75 per cent of councillors voted for him to continue as leader, with only eight Green and Independent councillors calling for his resignation.

In a speech delivered during the debate, Mr Butland said he felt he had been the victim of an “orchestrated and highly personal vendetta” following the ruling on the garden communities.

He also said the petition had made “falsehoods and half-truths” about him.

Speaking to the Gazette after the meeting, Mr Butland admitted he was pleased to have the support of his colleagues, but said he had concerns about an increase in personal attacks on himself and other councillors.

He said: “I’m delighted members of this council, including some opposition councillors, have supported me.

“When you are one of four council leaders working on the garden communities but are singled out like I have been, you do worry it is personal.

“I’m concerned Braintree is becoming part of a movement which is populist politics. It’s so easy for people to set up a petition online and make comments while sat behind a keyboard.

“There have been several attacks and disparaging remarks made not just about me, but about other councillors and members of the planning committee on the internet lately.

“I’m concerned these concerted attacks are spreading, particularly to councillors who are criticised for voting a certain way on a planning application.”

Mr Butland is also the subject of a number of formal complaints.

It is alleged the council leader has failed to previously declare conflicts of interest, has made “misleading statements”, and made “premature and predetermined” decisions.

Mr Butland says he will “vigorously” defend himself against the allegations but is now calling on all members of the council to move forward and secure a housing plan for the district.

He added: “I doubt very much the petition is the end of this attack on me but I hope that members of this council will be able to move forward and work with each other to secure a local plan.

“Braintree councillors have a good record of working together so we want that to continue.”