VILLAGERS have won the first round of their legal challenge to plans they say will merge their community with the town of St Ives.

A High Court judge has given Houghton and Wyton Parish Council leave to have the court review Huntingdonshire District Council's decision-making process for the westward expansion of St Ives. Mrs Justice Thirlwall has also granted a 'protective costs order' to limit the parish's liability for legal costs if it loses the judicial review.

The parish, which says HDC side-stepped the statutory process for allocating sites for a housing development, believes the addition of 700 further homes to the south of Houghton Road, St Ives, will effectively remove the gap between the town and Houghton.

To opponents of the expansion are so incensed that they are standing in next week's district council elections as independents, though both insist they are not single-issue candidates.

Heather Merryweather, vice-chairman of the parish council, is standing in St Ives West against, among others, Conservative agent Ryan Fuller, and Paul Boothman, leading light of the action group Stop Houghton East Development (SHED), is one of five candidates in The Hemingfords seat currently occupied by former council leader Ian Bates.

“By creating and adopting key planning document, the district council sought to allocate the remaining green space between the village and the neighbouring town for housing,” the parish said. “But it was argued this was achieved without allowing local people their right within the statutory planning process to put forward arguments to an independent planning inspection.

Barrister Sarah Harnett argued that the planning document was a developer's charter and that building where proposed would effectively join the village to the town of St Ives, changing the character of the area for ever.

Mrs Merryweather told The Hunts Post: “It's not a dot-to-dot book, and it's a shame the cabinet didn't listen in the first place, so we were forced to do this. Our youngsters need good quality affordable housing, but we can do better than this.”

She said the £19,000 legal costs so far were largely covered by “an awful lot of very generous donations, not just from Houghton and Wyton, but from St Ives and Hemingford. We shall have enough money if we have to go the full way.”

Although the case is unlikely to be listed until November, it could be brought forward if there were a relevant planning application in the meantime.

Mr Boothman said Ms Harnett's advice was that the judicial review hearing need take no more than half a day in court. A number of other parish councils were following Houghton and Wyton's progress with great interest, he added.

HDC's head of planning services, Steve Ingram, said: “The council contends that the status of, and prospective uses for, the St Ives West Urban Design Framework was appropriately clarified during its adoption process, and we will be maintaining that position in the event of any subsequent litigation.

“It is considered that the St Ives West UDF provides valuable planning guidance to shape and inform the potential further development of land and the related delivery of significant areas of new public green space.”

The issue may never actually reach a full hearing. Planners are working on a definitive development plan document for the area that will involve the consultation the parish council and SHED want.

“I think they are wasting their money,” the council's executive leader, Cllr Jason Ablewhite told The Hunts Post. “The worst-case scenario is that the judge will tell us to re-look at this – which we shall already have done by then. And the final decision remains with HDC.”