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COURT HEARS DISPUTE OVER 2,000 HOMES FOR STANSTED WORKERS

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The rural character of four Essex villages may be obliterated for ever if plans to build almost 2,000 homes for Sta...
The rural character of four Essex villages may be obliterated for ever if plans to build almost 2,000 homes for Stansted Airport workers go ahead, London's high court heard today.

The villages of Felsted, Takeley, Birchanger and Little Dunmow are bucolic islands which face being swamped by massive development to meet the airport's expansion, the court was told.

Now the villages' parish councils and local conservation society chairman, Andrew Warren, are battling to force a fresh public inquiry into the housing plans, claiming their objections have never been fairly heard.

Their counsel, John Steele QC, told the court: 'The impact of the proposal on the four rural communities concerned cannot be over-stated.

'They will have the gravest consequences in social, economic, educational, highways, infrastructure, countryside and environmental terms and may lead to the obliteration of their identities as distinct and seperate settlements.

'The scale of the development proposals in relation to the size of the existing communities is immense. The proposal to site 825 homes in Takeley, for example, will almost double the size of that small hamlet of 899 households and 2,237 people.

'The need to get the decision right and for the decision making process to be fair is of fundamental importance to these communities.

'The residents of the four rural parishes and the communities themselves have been denied the opportunity to mount effective opposition to these proposals, in particular through the public inquiry process'.

Mr Steele said that at a public inquiry before a planning inspector in 1993, objectors and counter-objectors had been afforded no right of audience, and had been denied the right to give evidence, cross-examine or make oral submissions.

The court heard Stansted is Britain's fastest-growing airport. It currently handles about eight million passengers-a-year, but this is due to rise to 15 million over the next decade, subject to parliamentary approval.

Uttlesford DC's original proposal had been for construction of 2,500 new homes necessary to house burgeoning numbers of airport workers on a single site - a former US airforce base at Little Easton, four miles from the airport. That proposal was rejected by a planning inspector after a public inquiry in 1993.

The four parish councils and Mr Warren are asking the high court to overturn that part of the revised local plan which includes the housing development proposals, and to order a fresh public inquiry.

Mr Steele said that if the plans went ahead rural character' of the 'quintessentially English' villages would undergo 'rapid and dramatic change' for decades to come.

Stansted Airport and the M11 motorway were already 'highly incongruous' in a historically rural area and had inevitably created 'severe development pressures' for greater growth.

The four villages had managed to maintain their rural nature, with the pace of modern life ever increasing around them, but all that was now under grave threat, he added.

The hearing, expected to last two to three days, continues.

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