A planning inspector has turned down an appeal by a developer to build 32 luxury homes in Kingsbridge, throwing the project into doubt.

The Lock’s Hill (also known as Garden Mill) development has been beset with problems due to an ongoing planning wrangle between Blakesley Estates and South Hams District Council (SHDC).

Planning permission was granted by planners on appeal in 2017 after it had originally been refused by SHDC.

But residents have also opposed the development, claiming it would destroy Kingsbridge’s last remaining wild space and that the homes would be unaffordable for the majority of local people.

In March 2023, the company had an application for certificate of lawfulness refused, leading to the appeal which was rejected last week.

Central to the issue was having a Tree Protection Plan (TPP) in place prior to the commencement of building work.

Inspector Mark Robbins however said that there was an absence “of any convincing evidence that appropriate tree protection measures were in place” when construction work began, and that “a breach had clearly taken place”.

He added that the developer informed SHDC that work would begin on the site on May 27, 2021, but that there was evidence that “substantive activity” had begun before that date.

He pointed out that planning permission “expressly places the responsibility on the developer to comply in accordance with any works related to the development of that site”.

Cllr Dan Thomas, SHDC’s head of planning, said the planning inspector’s findings had “vindicated the decisions we’ve made around the breach of the planning condition”.

He added: “There has been a longstanding commitment on behalf of the Council, supported by our local MPs, to take robust action regarding breaches of planning.”

SHDC leader Julian Brazil added: “We are delighted that an independent planning inspector has vindicated our position.”

The Planning Inspectorate also awarded SHDC a partial award of costs from the developer.

In response to the decision, Dan Stathers, from the Save Lock’s Hill group, congratulated SHDC and Kingsbridge town council “for putting together such a solid case”, saying:

“The decision has brought much relief to so many towns folk, many of whom have written objection letters and supplied crucial evidence of the wrongdoings that have taken place on Lock’s Hill.”

He also called on residents to “come together and campaign for a restitution that better serves our local wildlife and surrounding community”.

However, the director of Blakesley Estates, John Freeland, reportedly said he was “extremely disappointed” with the planning appeal decision, adding that it had “ended any chance of the site being completed”.

He said the decision “seems irrational at a time when the UK has a national shortage of housing and South Hams District Council has previously announced a housing emergency”.

He warned that “no one” would now invest in the project “as no planning permission exists”, while suggesting that the unfinished site with five partially built homes - which he referred to as ‘The Quarry’ - could become a permanent eye sore.