Planning consent had been granted to South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDRHA) in July 2015 to demolish 18 small social Brimhay bungalows set around a green, built by the Elmhirsts of Dartington as retirement housing for estate workers. The plan was to redevelop the 0.75 ha site with 12 houses for sale, a three storey block for people with learning disabilities and another of 12 flats to replace the individual bungalows with gardens for social tenants.
But a wood inhabited by a protected (under European law) dormouse, led to judge Mr Justice Hickinbottom overturning planning permission for the 32 new homes.
Resident Elizabeth Wilkinson would have faced eviction from her bungalow home had the project gone ahead.
Judge Hickinbottom ruled South Hams District Council was wrong in law when it granted planning consent.
Wilkinson's lawyers said the project would destroy the habitat of dormice in woodland at Dartington.
Judge Hickinbottom said a survey "revealed a single dormouse-chewed hazelnut within the woodland".
The judge rejected claims that the council had failed to match up to its duties under European habitat protection rules.
But he said that the councillors had not been given enough information about the potential impact of the scheme on open space, effectively ignoring its own policies designed to safeguard public open space.
The campaign group Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete (DBDUC) said it was "a victory of national importance. It’s a win that upholds a community’s right to open space – whether in public ownership or not." They said using a ‘Something Wonderful In My Back Yard' approach had worked.
The judge said: "It cannot be said that the decision of the DMC would have been the same if the error had not been made…on all the evidence, I find that the members of the DMC were unfortunately misled and did not appreciate that such a breach was involved."