A WILDLIFE expert concerned about rare butterflies has overturned planning permission for 500 new homes.

Ecologist Dominic Woodfield, 42, managed to get quashed planning approval for homes near Bicester’s Gavray Drive at the High Court.

Gallagher Estates was granted permission for homes on the 23-hectare site in 2006 following a public inquiry, and it was later renewed in 2011. Work at the site had not started.

Mr Woodfield took legal action over concerns Cherwell District Council had failed to comply with Environmental Impact Assessment regulations, and that it had made its planning renewal decision based on inadequate information provided by Gallagher Estates.

He was concerned about butterflies – in particular the marsh fritillary – as well as lizards, snakes, slow worms, great crested newts and unusual wild flowers in the area.

Mr Woodfield, director of Bioscan UK, based in Little Baldon, South Oxfordshire, said: “I felt the approach taken by the council was not only inadequate but unlawful. They disagreed, leaving me with no option but to bring the legal challenge.”

He said he undertook the legal challenge at “significant financial risk” and would have been liable for several thousand pounds had he lost.

High Court judge Mr Justice Nicholas Underhill quashed planning approval last week after a hearing in December.

Mr Woodfield said he was pleased but expected homes to be built at the site eventually.

He said: “I hope that they, and the council, now accept that a better scheme is needed, with fewer houses and more land set aside to protect the site’s important wildlife.

“Better, and early, engagement with local residents and wildlife groups will help to ensure that a sensible compromise between development and the need to protect wildlife is achieved.”

A spokesman for Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) said Gavray Drive was the last site in Oxfordshire known to support the marsh fritillary butterfly, and is also one of very few sites in the country to support all five hairstreak butterflies.

Beccy Micklem, BBOWT’s senior conservation officer for Oxfordshire, said: “We welcome this decision and we hope that it will lead to a more wildlife-friendly approach to development at Gavray Drive.

“We have always recognised that some development could take place while still protecting the important wildlife associated with the meadows. It is regrettable that the correct rules were not followed to assess the environmental impact of the development and that Mr Woodfield had to resort to court action.”

Dr Pat Clissold, who lives in nearby Langford Village estate, said “It’s good news that the developer will now have to go back to the drawing board.

“Most locals, when asked, do not want this green space lost, but most of us thought there was nothing that could be done about it.”

The district council said it had since received another planning application for 500 homes on the site from Gallagher Estates.

Council spokesman Tony Ecclestone said its costs were £13,000 for the judicial review at the High Court and it also had to pay as yet undetermined costs for Mr Woodfield.

Gallagher Estates declined to comment.