SOUTHEND United's proposed new stadium could be delayed by up to a year after being called in by the Government.

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said plans for a 22,000-seater stadium at Fossetts Farm should go to public inquiry, partly because of concerns over the use of green belt and the housing and flats planned for it.

The planning inspectorate will consider written submissions from the club, Southend Council and any other organisations or individuals before setting a date for the inquiry. It is expected this will be a lengthy process.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "An application of this nature can take six months to a year." Southend United chairman Ron Martin planned to have the stadium ready for the 2008 season. He hoped to avoid an inquiry because the plans had been supported Southend Council and Rochford Council.

Mr Martin said: "These procedures are an integral, but nevertheless disappointing, part of the UK's planning system.

"They are designed to ensure compliance with central Government's policy, which the club's planning application achieves. One wonders, other than delay, what a public inquiry will achieve."

Fans were disappointed at the news.

James Falkingham, co-editor of All At Sea fanzine, said: "The fans will be hugely disappointed. We have always been told this stage would be a formality and were expecting work to start this year.

"There's nothing the club can do about it but, after 20 years of trying to relocate, it grates that this has been called in, especially as both Rochford and Southend councils were so emphatically behind it."

The public inquiry will be about the whole application for the site at Fossetts Farm, including the 144-bedroom hotel, conference centre, bars, flats, and a shopping area.

Bill Harkness, managing director of Delamere Estates, which runs Victoria Plaza, said he would make a submission to the planning inspectorate.

He said: "We would be absolutely delighted with the stadium. What we don't want is this completely unnecessary out-of-town retail development, which would be to the detriment of the health of the centre of town."