A LEADING barrister has claimed the north Essex authorities have nothing to fear about a potential legal challenge from campaigners fighting garden community plans.

Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC was commissioned by Colchester, Tendring and Braintree councils to examine a legal opinion on the authorities’ local plan prepared on behalf of the Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex (Cause).

But Mr Lockhart-Mummery said the councils should not be worried about a mooted legal challenge from campaigners.

He said: “It is my view there is nothing in the Cause opinion which should lead the authorities to change their present course, and intended course, in the promotion of the local plans.”

In Cause’s 13-page legal opinion, barrister Martin Edwards claimed the councils “appear intent on disregarding the concerns of, and clear guidance from, the planning inspector”.

He also highlighted examples of predetermination and possibly unlawful behaviour by the authorities. He claimed the public consultation had also been a “token exercise”.

But Mr Lockhart-Mummery’s letter refutes the claims. He states: “The councils have been in dialogue with the inspector to make sure the procedure and approach being adopted meet his requirements.

“Acknowledging the ambition and complexity of the local plan proposals in this case, I have not experienced such a degree of methodical engagement with an examining inspector’s guidance as is happening in the present instance.”

He claims the authorities have completed their statutory requirements as regards consultation and Mr Edwards’ objection relates to an alleged “closed mind” approach.

Rosie Pearson, Cause’s spokesman, said: “No-one following the North Essex Garden Communities project closely can fail to see that the process seems biased and predetermined, despite the reassuring words in Lockhart-Mummery’s opinion.

“One only needs to read the responses to the recent methodology consultation proposed for the new Sustainability Appraisal to see respondents are pretty united in saying the methodology is biased and is likely to result in the same three garden communities being found sustainable at the end.”