A CRUNCH planning meeting is in chaos with its chairman and deputy chairman unable to attend.

A decision on whether Tollgate Village, Stanway, can go ahead is due to be taken at Colchester Council's planning committee on February 18.

The debate is happening for the second time after the chairman's vote at the last committee meeting went against the officer recommendation of refusal.

Now chairman Jon Manning has revealed he will be on holiday while the next meeting takes place.

And while normally the deputy chairman, Jessica Scott-Boutell, would step into his role, Mr Manning said he understood she will be unavailable too.

As the Gazette was going to press last night it was unclear if the meeting would be postponed.

Lib Dem Mr Manning said a chairman would probably be voted for on the night if the meeting went ahead.

He added: "I am away.

"I had booked that the Sunday night before the planning meeting at Christmas, I had no idea it was going to happen, I can't change school term dates."

Mr Manning is currently in teacher training which means he is restricted to taking time off during school holidays.

The meeting falls within half term.

For personal reasons he would not disclose where he was going but made it clear he would be unable to get to the meeting because of his holiday commitments.

He defended his decision to go against the planning officers' recommendation at the last meeting where he had the casting vote.

"If you look back at the history of the planning committee, the chairman has always gone with how he voted initially. I don't think it is protocol [to vote with the officers' recommendation] - you have to vote with your conscience," he added.

After the last meeting officers were tasked with producing a new report which states the risks of approving the development and also any financial implications which the decision may create as part of the Deferral and Recommendation Overturn Procedure.

That will be debated at by the committee at the next meeting.

Members are permitted to change their vote, and different councillors all together could be sitting on the committee.

Ahead of the last meeting, Laura Sykes, of Highwoods and Stanway Independent Group, and Conservative Jackie Maclean, were told by Colchester Council’s monitoring officer their celebrations with Daniel Watts and Jayne Gee, directors at Tollgate Partnership, were a conflict of interest.

The women attended the opening of the Partnership’s Pappus House, in Tollgate Business Park, Stanway, reported and photographed in the Gazette in October. Pappus House is aimed at allowing new businesses to expand.

Substitute members took their place.

The Tollgate Village plans have whipped up a storm of controversy amid fears they will take trade from the town centre.

MP for the area Priti Patel has called on the council to back the decision.

The Partnership’s proposal for Tollgate Village includes shops, restaurants and a cinema on 20 acres in Stanway.

The Gazette tried to contact Miss Scott-Boutell but she was unavailable to comment.