Colchester Council will not defend one of its reasons for refusing Alumno’s student flats development.

The council’s planning committee was asked to vote on whether or not to put forward evidence at the public inquiry.

Nicky Parsons, executive director of planning at Pegasus Group, had warned it was “unreasonable” for the planning committee to refuse the application on the grounds of a lack of engagement with the community.

Ms Parsons is one of a team of three from the firm who will help the council defend its decision to reject the developer’s plans for 336 students flats, an 87-bed Travelodge, retail units and public space in the town’s so-called Cultural Quarter, off Queen Street.

At a meeting of the planning committee councillors agreed not to defend the reason by seven votes to two.

An inspector will still make a decision on the community engagement aspect of the appeal and hear third party evidence.

Campaigners and Kathryn Oelman, from Lawson Planning Partners, had argued the consultation undertaken by Alumno was “not meaningful”.

Ms Oelman said: “Many of the people on the [consultation] list stood before you in February and told you they had not been effectively consulted or consulted early enough.”

She added the developer had not listened to residents and “the scheme was poorer as a result”.

A community engagement document submitted by Alumno as part of its plans said a public event was held, more than 2,600 letters were sent out and meetings were held with ward councillors.

It added it had made contact with five residents’ associations to arrange meetings.

But John Burton, president of the Colchester Civic Society, argued this had not been the case.

He said the chairman of the civic society had offered to book and pay for a hall to hold a meeting with the associations but was told it was no necessary.

He added: “The statement of engagement is perceived by many to be a work of fiction. “

A number of councillors said they were concerned they were being asked to make a decision.

Pauline Hazell said: “I cannot believe an inspector will simply decide the case is weak because we made a decision to include what we believed was genuine and reasonable in our reasons to refuse.”

But chairman Cyril Liddy said: “The evidence is their consultation did take place and is what the inspector will rely on. “