Concerns over Crawley Borough Council’s proposal for a new cemetery have led to a two-month delay in the draft submission of its Local Plan.
The plan – known as Crawley 2029 – will shape the future of the town for the next 15 years.
It was due to be submitted in October, but Sport England, which was asked for its opinion on the proposed use of some of the town’s open spaces for development, has raised concern about the loss of Ewhurst Playing Field.
That, coupled with the need for the council to select a new leader following the resignation of Cllr Bob Lanzer, means the draft submission has been deferred until December.
A spokesman for Sport England said: “Playing fields are a key resource for the whole community, and safeguarding sports provision is vital if we are to get more people of all ages playing and enjoying sport.
“Sport England has raised concern regarding the Crawley 2029 Plan and its allocation of Ewhurst Playing Field as the site for a new cemetery proposal.”
The spokesman added the organisation was working with the council to “seek alternative sites”.
The news was welcomed by residents at Millfield Court, which overlooks the playing field.
Former firefighter Mick Deacon has collected 1,339 signatures on an e-petition opposing the cemetery.
The petition was put before a meeting of the Full Council on July 24 – and Mr Deacon plans to re-submit it to the council for debate in December.
Mr Deacon accused the council of “short sightedness” for not considering the Kilnwood Vale development or the North East sector as sites for a cemetery.
He added: “I know this argument has gotten political but local people are not interested in the politics.
“They just don’t want a cemetery plonked down in their neighbourhood.”
Millfield Court resident Gillian Pitt added: “We’re being encouraged to get youngsters playing sports of all sorts and I think that this is really important that we should keep the playing fields that we’ve got.”
The submission delay prompted the town’s Labour group to accuse the council of “lacking direction”.
Cllr Peter Smith (Lab, Ifield) said: “The continuing lack of direction from the Tories in Crawley may cost our town dearly, if they fail to deliver an approved Local Plan.
“It is also clear that when residents requested a longer consultation period over the future cemetery, traveller and housing sites we were told, at Full Council on July 24, that this was not possible due to the need to get the plan completed.
“But it now seems to be no problem to add two months in to the schedule.”
When asked why the need for a new Leader should affect the Local Plan, which has already ungone many months of work, a council spokesman said: “It’s more about political leadership overall then just the leader. A new leader could mean new Cabinet members.
“However, the bigger issues are that we’ve not had the responses we need and there are difficult planning issues where we don’t have enough information yet to make informed decisions.
“We would be criticised if we went ahead without this information.”
Acting council leader Cllr Claire Denman (Con, Pound Hill South & Worth) added: “There are a couple of bits of evidence we really need to get a better understanding of before submission around affordable housing and public open space.
“We haven’t had Sport England’s response. They have to assess the impact on the community. That’s the really important bit of evidence to get.”
The Local Plan will now be debated at Cabinet on December 4 and Full Council on December 18.
If approved by Full Council a further period of public consultation will take place in January and February 2014.
The council spokesman added: “A revised timetable is being discussed by the Local Plan Working Group and will be published once it’s agreed.
“It’s vital that Crawley has a sound Local Plan so this short delay for a plan which runs for 15 years until 2029 is not significant.
“Residents have been consulted at every stage and will continue to be.”