The Community Right to Buy Order to transform a prime Totnes site into a multi-million complex featuring affordable homes and public space has expired, a shock announcement reveals.

The news signals yet another blow for the Atmos Project as it means the proposed development, voted in by the public in a referendum in 2016, cannot now go ahead without a planning application.

In March this year the land, adjacent to the railway station, was sold to glue company Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd by new owners Saputo UK, in a deal which seemed to spell the end for the trailblazing scheme.

The latest announcement by South Hams Council is yet another nail in the coffin for the popular project, which received the public seal of approval five years ago.

The announcement, by council leader Judy Pearce, has been met with “surprise” and “disappointment” by both the Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS), which is running the project, and the newly formed Atmos for Totnes Campaign group.

Following consultations with its in-house legal team and external legal specialists, the district council says it concludes the groundbreaking order has now expired.

Cllr Pearce hailed it a “real shame” the plans have not come to fruition, but says it is beyond the authority’s control.

She said: “Community Right to Build Orders are outside of the normal planning process and in this respect an order is very different to a planning application.

“A Community Development Order is approved by a referendum and not by a planning committee.

“Now the order has expired, a planning application for the site would have to be made to us as the planning authority.

“If this happens we would have to consider how any new application sought to deliver the aims of the Joint Local Plan policy on the site.”

In a statement, TCDS said it was “surprised” to receive a letter from the council’s solicitor on Monday evening stating that following a legal challenge by Fastglobe the authority had concluded the order had expired.

The directors said the council had reconfirmed the extension of the order just one month ago in June.

The directors pledged to press ahead with the Atmos Project and say they are seeking further advice on their position.

In a joint statement, they said: “TCDS worked in partnership with Dairy Crest until our agreement with Saputo, who bought Dairy Crest in February 2019 for £975m, was terminated on a technicality.

“Given the housing emergency the town, and indeed Devon and Cornwall, currently face, TCDS remains determined to pursue every possible avenue to getting Atmos built.”

The Atmos for Totnes Campaign group also issued a joint statement saying: “We are shocked and disappointed to learn that, once again, council leader Judy Pearce has acted unilaterally in seeking to frustrate the avenues TCDS can explore in its bid to secure the Atmos site for the community, in perpetuity.”

“We find Cllr Pearce’s lack of support for what is ostensibly one of the UK’s biggest and most successful stories about community involvement in the planning process – the democratic process involved in achieving the Community Right To Build Order – breathtaking.”

The group claims the decision undermines the Government’s promotion of local community-run projects such as Atmos.

It urged: “We request all South Hams councillors and officers get behind Conservative policy and back the community’s bid to uphold the Community Right to Build Order and secure the site for development as the community intended, and as the Community Right to Build Order specifies, without delay.”