Councillors demand discussion in public over decision to launch High Court challenge (From This Is Local London)
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Councillors demand discussion in public over decision to launch High Court challenge over Cherkley Court
Councillors have demanded that a meeting to discuss the decision to launch an expensive High Court challenge over Cherkley Court be held in public rather than in private as planned.
Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) decided this month to challenge a judge’s decision to stop greenbelt land at the former home of press baron Lord Beaverbrook, being turned into an exclusive hotel and golf course.
The council has lodged an application for permission to appeal after the judge quashed planning permission it had granted to develop Cherkley Court, near Leatherhead, and refused permission to appeal.
At a scrutiny committee meeting last week, its chairman Councillor Stephen Cooksey said he had asked the chief executive for an opportunity to scrutinise the decisions over Cherkley Court.
Coun Cooksey said: "There have been a lot of important decisions taken at a time when there has not been an opportunity for members outside the executive to have any genuine input into questioning and seeking views."
Work to create a golf course on the historic estate
He said they did not have agreement to hold discussions at the scrutiny committee, but he understood members could question the council leader and council decision makers at a seminar on October 1.
He said: "It will not be an opportunity through scrutiny committee and it will be an opportunity which will be clearly held in camera."
Liberal Democrat Councillor Dave Howarth, who represents Leatherhead North, pressed for the matter to come to scrutiny committee saying it was 'really, really important' for the debate to be held in public.
He said: "It is hugely controversial and people are really interested in it."
He added: "This falls squarely within the remit of scrutiny committee."
But Tory Councillor Chris Hunt, who represents Ashtead Village, strongly advised that the discussions, which involved legal arguments, were held off the public record.
Coun Hunt said: "I think we would shoot ourselves in the foot if we talk about issues like that in public when other parties to the issues will be listening in as well."
Diggers at work on the site
Lib Dem opposition leader Councillor Margaret Cooksey said there was anxiety about how the decision was taken and why there was not greater involvement.
She said: "It needed wider consultation with the members, I would have said. It’s about the process that we need to have dealt with in the open not any of the legal issues."
Mr Cooksey said he would discuss the matter further with the chief executive.
Last month Mr Justice Haddon-Cave concluded that approval granted by MVDC was irrational, legally flawed, contrary to planning policy and based on inadequate reasons.
Cherkley Campaign, who had brought the judicial review to block plans by developer Longshot Cherkley Court, hailed the decision as a ‘victory’ for the countryside.
Longshot Cherkley Court, which said it aims to restore the estate to its former glory and create hundreds of local jobs, has already made an separate application for leave to appeal.
MVDC chief executive Yvonne Rees said the council has decided to seek permission to appeal after carefully reviewing the judgement and taking external legal advice.
She said: "Our legal advisers consider that there are areas of the judgement that were not fully or properly considered, which can be pursued further in the Court of Appeal.
"The council believes that we should defend our earlier permission which we believe was legally granted.
"This is about defending that position and the right of local members to make local decisions."
She admitted the council will not know the full costs until legal proceedings have been exhausted when a review would take place in due course.
She added: "The decision to apply for permission to appeal was taken in line with the council’s constitution."
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