Government officials have rejected major plans to build 105,000 homes across the West of England.
Planning inspectors 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 regional plan was put through its paces during an examination held in public in Bath last month.
Planning inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee were tasked with deciding whether the plan was sound and legally compliant and could be adopted straight away or needed modifications first.
Instead, the inspectors concluded that they had “significant concerns” about fundamental aspects of the plan and advised the four councils to withdraw it.
In a letter dated August 1, Mr Rivett and Mr Lee wrote: “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.”
Further hearings expected to take place in September or October have been cancelled.
The inspectors’ key criticism of the plan involved the way that 12 main locations for new housing developments were selected.
The 12 “strategic development locations” across the four local authorities included Thornbury, Charfield, Buckover, Yate, Coalpit Heath, Brislington, North Keynsham, Whitchurch, Nailsea, Backwell, Churchill and Banwell.
Plans to build three new ‘garden villages’ in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset were among the most contentious aspects of the plan.
All of the other proposals were extensions to existing cities, towns and villages.
Mr Rivett and Mr Lee said they were not convinced that the four councils had considered “reasonable alternatives” when selecting the strategic development locations, so they could not be certain that the locations and the overall spatial strategy had been determined on a “robust, consistent and objective” basis.
“We therefore cannot conclude that these fundamental aspects of the plan are sound,” they said.
The inspectors said that they had warned the councils of their concerns shortly after the plan was submitted in April 2018.
Despite extra evidence submitted and the arguments put by the four councils at last month’s hearings, “our significant concerns” remain, they said.
“We seriously question whether the production of even more evidence, as opposed to going back several stages in the plan-making process, would be likely to address our soundness concerns,” they wrote.
“I might be appropriate to consider developing a high-level strategy for the plan area which, not based on specific SDLs, identifies how housing employment and other development should be broadly distributed.”
The inspectors said they would be sending another letter to the councils setting out their concerns in more detail by mid-August.
During the hearings, critics accused the four councils having predetermined ideas about where they wanted to put new housing and taking an inconsistent approach.
Three authorities chose sites within the green belt but North Somerset Council did not.
The councils told the hearing they had consulted extensively and were satisfied that their approach was consistent
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter