A campaign group opposed to plans to turn Lord Beaverbrook's former country home into a hotel, health club and spa and high-end golf course has triumphed in a legal challenge to the scheme after the High Court ruled that councillors who approved it had ‘at best paid lip service’ to relevant Green Belt policies.
Grade II listed Cherkley Court – considered a ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Surrey countryside - was built in the 1870s, rebuilt following a fire in 1893 and bought by Canadian businessman, Max Aitken, who later became the first Lord Beaverbrook, in 1911. He lived there until his death in 1964. His widow lived there until she died in 1994 and developers, Longshot Cherkley Court Limited, bought the property from the Beaverbrook Foundation for £20.3million in April 2011.
In September 2012, Mole Valley District Council granted planning permission for the property’s conversion into an 'exclusive private members golf course' with a restricted membership of 400. In overturning that decision, the Court found that it was 'legally flawed, contrary to planning policy, failed to take account of material considerations, irrational and the reasons given for it were inadequate.'
Opponents to the proposals, backed by the National Trust, local conservation groups and others, had argued that the development would impact on the high quality landscape on the North Downs, comprising an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Great Landscape Value. Council officers had recommended rejection of the plan; however it was approved by a majority of councillors.
In upholding the challenge brought by Cherkley Campaign Limited, the Court concluded: “The Council majority at best paid lip service to the Green Belt policy but did not apply it…The Council majority failed to consider whether there were 'exceptional circumstances' or 'public interest' reasons justifying allowing this development to take place in the protected landscape.
'The Council majority’s conclusion that the overall landscape character 'would not be compromised' by the imposition of a golf course was perverse. The Council majority failed to have regard to the policy or aim of conserving and enhancing the existing landscape. The Council majority failed to consider whether this proposed new golf course could and should be directed away to a less sensitive area. For each of these reasons the Council majority’s decision should be quashed."