A LEGAL challenge to Government plans for 34 new gypsy and traveller sites in the district has been ruled out by the district council, to the anger of residents.

Seven campaign groups from across the district put their names to a letter citing the example of St Albans – which is mounting a High Court legal challenge to the Government – and saying that the public consultation carried out by Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) on identifying possible sites was flawed.

A spokeswoman for the Theydon Bois Action Group said: “The council thought that accepting 34 pitches was ‘not a wholly unreasonable number’ rather than continue the fight.

“That is not a stance that most of the residents understand.”

EFDC is currently reviewing the way the consultation was carried out as hopes grow that the whole process can be stalled until after the next general election.

David Jenkins, who stands to lose 80 per cent of his land by his home in Thornwood if the proposals become reality, said: “The council's planning department should take a serious look at the way they have interpreted the Government’s guidelines for choosing sites.

“Both the settled community and the gypsy and traveller community have expressed preferences to be kept apart, but the council have completely ignored this when selecting potential sites.

“I think they're delaying things beyond the next election in the hope that the situation will change.

"But I think the next Government, whoever they are, will come under pressure from the European Union, so I don't think delaying it will make much difference.”

Thornwood landowner Erica Longton said: “The whole process appears to have been flawed. It's as if the council arbitrarily stuck pins in a map when they were deciding where to put the sites.

“If it was tested in a court of law it would collapse like a house of cards. I wouldn't be surprised if the action groups ended up taking the council to court if they fail to take the Government to court.”

A spokesman for Epping Forest District Council said a legal challenge was not being considered by its legal department.

He added: “We are still analysing the first consultation and taking stock of the situation.

“The feeling among councillors was that we shouldn’t consider the next step until we know the outcome of this stage.”