Northampton Borough Council dropped two of its objections to a 1,000-home housing estate because of potential legal costs, campaigners have claimed.
Councillors rejected the latest application by Bovis Homes for a huge site near Collingtree because of councillors about traffic, air quality, noise, and the effect on listed buildings in the village.
Bovis appealed - taking the issue to a 10-day public planning inquiry that started last week at Franklin’s Gardens - but the council has chosen to object only on the grounds of noise and effects on buildings.
Rod Sellers, of Hunsbury and Collingtree Residents’ Alliance, said: “To summarise, the council were scared of the cost implications.
“If the independent inspector rules, after all the evidence, that it was unreasonable for the council to have refused the application on those grounds, the council might have to pay costs to Bovis.
“If it comes down to those two remaining objections, we think the inspector will have no trouble dismissing them.”
Fortunately for campaigners - who are backed by both East Hunsbury and Collingtree parish councils and two MPs - the inspector, Colin Ball, has indicated during the first few days of the hearing that he would take into account objections from other parties.
Mr Sellers said: “That’s great news for us. We intend to give evidence about traffic, particularly the A45, and air quality to make sure the full range of concerns are heard.
“Quite a few cases exist where an inquiry has been influenced by lay objectors even when the local authority hasn’t officially used those reasons.”
Councillor Tim Hadland, cabinet member planning, said following the analysis of further information from Bovis, the council’s consultants were not confident there was enough evidence to support all the reasons for refusal of the homes.
He added: “National planning policy guidance warns local planning authorities that they are at risk of costs being awarded against them if they fail to produce evidence to substantiate each reason for refusal on appeal and for not reviewing their case promptly following the lodging of an appeal against refusal of planning permission.
“In this case, those costs would have been very substantial.
“In the light of this, and on clear advice of our Queen’s Counsel on the strength of the council’s case and the risks of legal costs, the council made the decision to withdraw those two refusal reasons.”
Bovis has been approached for a comment.