Airport homes scheme `threatens Domesday Book villages'

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Several villages listed in the Domesday Book could face obliteration if plans go ahead for thousands of new homes to meet the needs of Britain's fastest-growing airport, the High Court was told yesterday.

The development at Stansted in Essex threatened "the greatest change that has taken place to these communities perhaps since Roman times", John Steele QC, said.

He was appearing on behalf of Felsted, Takeley, Birchanger and Little Dunmow parish councils and a local conservation group which have banded together in an attempt to save their "quintessentially English" way of life.

Mr Steele said the councils were seeking to quash part of the local plan for their area dealing with the location of housing to serve Stansted.

They also wanted a second public inquiry into the highly-controversial issue of making the right provision for the airport which, depending on parliamentary approval, was expected to expand in the near future from 8 million to 15 million passengers a year.

As the Uttlesford local plan now stood, provision had been made for 2,500 new homes for airport staff to be spread over four locations - Felsted, with a population of 650; Great Dunmow with 625 residents, Stansted Mountfitchet (400), which was mainly in the parish of Birchanger, and Takeley (825).

Mr Steele told Deputy Judge George Bartlett QC: "The impact of those proposals on the four rural communities cannot be overstated. They will have the gravest consequences in social, economic, educational, highways, infrastructure, countryside and environmental terms - and may even lead eventually to the obliteration of their identities as distinct and separate settlements."

Yet the people most directly affected, the residents of the four parishes and the communities themselves, had been unlawfully denied the opportunity to mount effective opposition to those proposals before a public inquiry, he argued.

The parishes have so far raised pounds 30,000 from fetes, sponsored runs, auctions and donations to mount the court challenge. Mr Steele said the scale of the development relative to the size of the existing communities was "immense".

Andrew Warren, chairman of the conservation association covering Felsted and Little Dunmow, said if the plans went ahead "the two villages would coalesce into one sprawl".

He added that the villagers wanted the district plan to be overturned and another one held because "the first one was seriously flawed".