A high court judge today opened the way for the construction of 2,000 new homes for Stansted airport workers, to the bitter disappointment of residents of four Essex Domesday book villages who fear their rural bliss will be be shattered.
Andrew Warren, chairman of the Felsted and Little Dunmow Conservation Association, along with four parish councils which joined him in the court action, now face a legal costs bill estimated at up to £100,000.
They had asked Judge Bartlett to overturn that part of the Uttlesford Local Plan which earmarked the villages of Felsted, Takeley, Birchanger and Little Dunmow, for 2,000 new homes for workers at Stansted, Britain's fastest-growing airport.
'It will effectively urbanise one of the few remaining genuinely rural areas left in the south-east, and the judge's ruling will not be welcomed by any local residents'.
But the judge ruled: 'The applicants have failed to make out any grounds for quashing the local plan, their application must therefore be refused'.
But he granted Mr Warren and the four parish councils leave to take their case to the court of appeal.
The judge's decision opens the way for construction of 650 new homes in Felsted, 625 in Great Dunmow, 400 at Stansted Mountfitchet, and 825 at Takeley which currently has just 2,237 residents in 899 households.
In a press release, Mr Warren and the parish councils said: 'If put into effect, the consequences of today's decision are stark.
'Each of the four villages would be damaged irreperably by the kind of development vandalism of rural areas which is causing increasing concern all over the country.
'Moreover this would happen without local people - those most directly affected - having had any opportunity to speak at the one public inquiry which was supposed to examine fully the appropriateness of each of the schemes put forward.
'Serious question marks will remain therefore about the nature of our planning system which is so undemocratic as, in effect, to wilfully exclude from an inquiry those most directly affected by the development being examined.
'In all the circumstances we believe that our challenge was fully justified. It has demonstrated the importance of parish councils making common cause; and of district councils recognising the need to involve local representatives properly in preparing their plans and to avoid riding roughshod over them'.
Judge Bartlett said Mr Warren and the parish councils had all sought to be represented at the public inquiry into the development proposals but had not been allowed to do so by the presiding Environment Ministry planning inspector.
But he added: 'It is not contended that the inspector acted unlawfully in refusing to hear them. It is accepted that it was within his discretion to decide as he did'.
Uttlesford DC had been entitled to the view that objectors to the proposal had 'no new issues' to raise and that a second public inquiry was unnecessary.