Campaigners fighting to save village fields from development in a David and Goliath battle have been dealt a major setback.

A bid by people living in Steeton, near Keighley, to have fields off Thornhill Road designated as a village green looks near certain to be rejected later this week, leaving the door open for 220 homes to be built there. The blow was delivered by independent inspector David Manley QC, who has recommended that Bradford Council throw out the campaigners’ bid without a public inquiry after an objection against it by developer Redrow Homes.

Councillors are expected to ratify Mr Manley’s decision at a meeting on Thursday, leaving campaigners with few remaining options in their battle to save the fields. And property litigator Matthew Pugh, who represent the campaigners on a pro bono basis along with barrister Anna Stubley, says the battle is now in the developer’s favour.

If the village green application had been approved, it would have meant Redrow would have been unable to build there, despite having planning permission.

But Mr Pugh said Mr Manley struck out the argument that a significant number of the residents of the parish of Steeton with Eastburn were making use of the fields, despite 120 witnesses supporting the application, made by long-time campaigners Shona Cole and Joanne Stokes.

“This is a developing and subjective area of the law, which despite attempts by the Government to water down statutory rights, still offers a real opportunity for communities to save public spaces from development,” said Mr Pugh, of Langleys Solicitors.

“We felt this was an important case to get involved with and to show all communities that they can have a voice.

“The residents would like to appeal against this decision. Unfortunately, the applicants cannot take the risk of being ordered to pay the developer’s costs and there is no funding available.

“At present it is possible to register a village green if it can be established that a significant number of residents have used the land for recreational purposes for a period of at least 20 years.

“Since the 2006 Act came into force, village green applications have been a very effective way for local residents to stop unwanted developments.

“The Government is proposing to change the law to make it harder to register village greens.”

The basis of the residents’ case was built around the fact they had been using three fields off Thornhill Road as a public space for sport and recreation for many years.

But in a report to be presented to the Council’s miscellaneous licences panel, which meets at City Hall at 10.30am on Thursday, the evidence is said to be not strong enough. In his report to the Council, Mr Manley argues that the number of users is not sufficient for the application to be successful.

Mrs Stokes, who has been leading the campaign to fight the homes plans, said opponents to the developers will need to regroup and decide what to do next.