Frank Gehry's King Alfred scheme in Brighton has been rocked by a shock setback at the last minute.
The project, which was granted planning permission in May, was set to provide 750 apartments as well as a state-of-the-art leisure complex.
The scheme was in the final process of negotiating Section 106 agreements at a planning meeting yesterday. But in an extraordinary move, the city's Conservative-led planning committee voted to take power back from officers just as it seemed the application was about to be rubber stamped.
The decision has infuriated developers Karis Holdings and ING Real Estate, who claim the planning committee has acted illegally, calling its actions nothing more than stalling tactics.
Karis spokeswoman Heather James said: 'We had no changes to the Section 106 agreements, and we were expecting to have no problems with the planning officers' changes as they were so minor.
'But we were then issued with a report on the day from the conservative representatives stating they will be extending their powers, which has made the officers very unhappy.'
James added: 'We have gained approval every step of the way, but then this happens at the very last minute. It could tie up the application in a legal battle that could last for years. The Conservatives are not serving the city's best interests - it's a politically motivated decision, which is illegal.'
The project, which would be Gehry's first in the UK, has been at the centre of controversy since its inception. According to the developers, unless the planning committee's stance is changed a legal battle will ensue.
James said: 'This has been completely unexpected, and we will now be seeking the best legal advice. We question the validity of the planning meeting, as we are supposed to be given five days' notice of any changes to the schedule - we were told on the day.'by Richard Vaughan