THOUSANDS of new homes at Chilmington Green took a step closer to becoming reality after Kent County Council gave its backing to the controversial scheme.
The decision to support Ashford Borough Council's plan for 5,750 dwellings on the tiny hamlet's doorstep was taken by cabinet member for the environment councillor Bryan Sweetland.
Campaigners have accused the authority of bypassing the democratic process because the decision was made before the matter had been debated in public.
The county council has insisted it acted within the rules, but had not had enough time to give it a proper airing.
Last month opponents of the scheme presented planning authority Ashford Borough Council and the Government with an 8,000-strong petition against the new settlement.
If it does finally go ahead, 1,000 acres of farmland in the parish of Great Chart and Singleton will be concreted over.
Councillor Peter Davison, leader of the borough council's Independent group, is vehemently opposed to the development and was furious at the county council's decision to support it.
He said: "This is undemocratic and in my view irresponsible.
"It's the most important development ever in Ashford and will impinge on thousands of lives.
"There are very good reasons against it and yet they say they've not got the time to discuss it.
"That to me is an abdication of their authority. One thing they should be discussing is a major issue such as this."
As the planning authority, it is the borough council that will ultimately decide the fate of Chilmington Green, not its county council counterpart.
Mr Sweetland stressed the county council had been asked to give its view on whether the infrastructure, such as the roads and schools, could cope with a development of this size.
He added: "If the plan looks like it stacks up and meets the criteria there is no reason why we wouldn't support Ashford Borough Council's plan.
"Whether or not residents agree on the figures of housing is something they really need to take up with the planning authority."
But that did not cut any ice with the campaign co-ordinator for opposition group Keep Chilmington Green, Max Frohnsdorrf.
He said: "They're more than just a consultee, they're a partner in the project and for them to take their responsibility so casually is incredibly disappointing.
"We're furious in Ashford and have lost a lot of trust in local representatives and this is more of the same."
As cabinet member, Mr Sweetland was within his rights to take the decision without consulting the environment, highways and waste committee, which was due to meet yesterday.
He pointed out that, when it is not possible for the committee to have an input before a decision is made, he can act in consultation with opposition members and the committee's chairman.