Crisis talks are needed after major plans to build 105,000 homes across the West of England were rejected, campaigners have claimed.
Government officials have advised the local authorities for Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset to take their joint spatial plan back to the drawing board.
The councils said it remains confident of finding a way forward but opponents of the plan said it “never should have got this far.”
Housebuilders fear the joint spatial plan – which sets out where 105,000 houses should be built across the West of England by 2036 – could potentially be held back for “many years”.
Councillors warned the delay could up the housing target to 116,000.
Thornbury Residents Against Poorly Planned Developments is calling on South Gloucestershire Council to stage an emergency meeting to consider the “crisis they have created”.
Co-chairman Colin Gardner said in an open letter to authority leader councillor Toby Savage: “It is our opinion that there can be no recovery from such a damning conclusion and yet, incredulously, early statements from the councils talk about further research to be done and that the inspectors have not yet heard all of the evidence.
“The councils are behaving like the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, whose reaction to his complete dismemberment is that it’s only a scratch and that he should be allowed to fight on.”
In a letter to the four councils, planning inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee revealed “significant concerns” about fundamental aspects of the plan, saying: “We think it only fair to advise you that we currently consider that withdrawal of the JSP from examination may well be the most appropriate way forward.
“We envisage that, overall, a very substantial amount of further work on the plan needs to be undertaken.”
The JSP includes 12 strategic development locations – Thornbury, Charfield, Buckover, Yate, Coalpit Heath, Brislington, North Keynsham, Whitchurch, Nailsea, Backwell, Churchill and Banwell – but the inspectors were not convinced the four councils had considered “reasonable alternatives”.
Responding to the letter, the authorities said: “We look forward to receiving your more detailed letter in the middle of August, following which the councils are confident we will be able to provide a substantive response to determine the best way forward.
“In the meantime, we note that you have not reached the view that any of the individual proposed SDLs could not form a sound part of a plan for the West of England or as allocations in local plans.”
Churchill and Langford Residents Action Group co-chairman Jan Murray said councillors in North Somerset had a “golden opportunity” to honour their election pledges and factor the climate emergency into every planning decision.
She added: “CALRAG will not relax its opposition to vast new developments such as Churchill and Banwell that are so far from employment, are unviable and cannot offer affordable housing.
“To concrete over the rolling vales of good quality agricultural land adjacent to the Mendip Hills AONB is illogical when there are sustainable alternative locations close to Bristol.
“We trust that North Somerset councillors will immediately grasp this opportunity to remove Churchill and Banwell strategic development locations from the JSP.”
South Bristol Wrong Road founder Faye Dicker said the inspectors’ intervention may mean that the green belt in Whitchurch remains protected, adding: “We now want to see the plans for the South Bristol ring road removed, as the road is no longer necessary without the planned houses.”
Councillor Paul Smith, Bristol’s cabinet member for housing, tweeted that the delay will probably mean the housing target is upped to 116,000 – if the JSP is resubmitted the councils may have to use the new Government formula.
The Home Builders Federation said the withdrawal of the plan would lead to “further delays and yet more uncertainty”, potentially for “many years.
Councillor Claire Young, the Liberal Democrat leader in South Gloucestershire, said those who campaigned against the JSP had been “vindicated”.
Her colleague, Councillor Adrian Rush, said: “It never should have got this far. The inspectors wrote to South Gloucestershire and the other councils over a year ago to say that they had serious concerns about how the plan had been put together.
“I dread to think how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted on this fool’s errand.”
In an open letter to the four councils, Campaign to Protect Rural England Avonside chair David Worskett urged them not to “tinker with the deeply flawed, out of date, JSP”.
Instead, he said they should give far greater priority to environmental and climate change considerations, plan houses closer to Bristol, preferably on brownfield sites, be realistic about the provision of vital infrastructure, and recognise the importance of the countryside.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter