Campaigners to contact Supreme Court next week over Cherkley Court battle

This Is Local London: Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in March Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in March

Undaunted countryside campaigners will next week seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court to stop the creation of an exclusive golf course on a historic estate.

After winning a legal battle at the Court of Appeal, developer Longshot Cherkley Court said it intends to press ahead with its transformation of Cherkley Court near Leatherhead as soon as possible.

But the Cherkley Campaign, which is continuing its fight to prevent the development, plans to apply early next week for leave to appeal from the Supreme Court.

This month the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court judgement that had quashed planning permission granted by councillors at Mole Valley District Council (MVDC). It has denied campaigners leave to appeal the decision.

In a statement yesterday the Cherkley Campaign announced: "In our view it is right and proper for the courts to continue to intervene in environmental and public law cases such as ours and accordingly we shall be appealing to the Supreme Court without delay."

The umbrella group said it was formed in order to apply for a judicial review of "lawfulness of the permission for a new golf course and built development" in the greenbelt.

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Cherkley Court, former home of legendary press baron Lord Beaverbrook

They won the judicial review but the judgement was overturned on appeal.

The campaign said: "We were fearful that if the planning system could not protect the Cherkley estate then no countryside in England would be safe from the developers.

"Cherkley is a sensitive site with many planning designations and it was hard to see how those protections could legitimately be overridden.

"In our view councillors were simply not listening to their advisers and local residents but instead relied heavily on the literature provided by the developer's lobbyists.

"We now learn that 'local democracy' means that councillors are free to exercise their planning judgement and approve applications in the face of local opposition, expert evidence and in spite of the policy restraints contained in the Local Plan."

After the Court of Appeal decision, Yvonne Rees, chief executive of MVDC, said: "The appeal raised a number of important planning principles which are of significant interest to other planning authorities across the country.

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"Such a decision reinforces the validity of the decision-making process that MVDC undertook."

At the time Ian Todd, a director of Longshot Cherkley Court, said: "The Court of Appeal judgement and the overwhelming support from the local community have only strengthened our resolve to deliver a project, of which, the Mole Valley residents can be justifiably proud."

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The rest of the Cherkley Campaign statement: "Objectors to a golf course on Cherkley Court's exceptional landscape at Leatherhead Downs included the Surrey Hills AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] Board, the National Trust, Friends of Box Hill and CPRE Surrey.

Mickleham Parish Council together with many local residents (double the number Mole Valley objectors to supporters of the scheme) also objected to Longshot's proposals for a golf course on environmental grounds.

Many, including the Surrey Botanical Society and the President of the European Centre for Nature Conservation, then wrote to the Secretary of State urging him to call in this planning application.

Sadly the minister declined to appoint a planning inspector to decide whether a departure from the local and national planning policy was justified, saying instead that it was up to local decision makers.

Our legal challenge partly focused on whether members could reasonably conclude that an Area of Great Landscape Value and the Surrey Hills AONB would be conserved and enhanced by a golf course, rather than altered, degraded and ultimately left more vulnerable to inappropriate development.

As we are all too painfully aware golf courses cannot now be considered as fulfilling Natural England's definition as areas of outstanding natural beauty and cannot therefore be included in the AONB boundary review.

The Court of Appeal removed the critical 'need' test from the equation, by saying the supporting text no longer formed part of the saved policy and, even if it were a material consideration, 'need' can now mean 'demand', even for an ultra exclusive golf course to serve the global market.

Neither is there any longer a requirement to direct future golf courses away from Mole Valley's protected landscapes.

It is therefore not necessary to act in the 'public interest', in the old fashioned sense, when overriding the environmental considerations and promoting economic growth.

Last year Longshot Cherkley Court Ltd granted a 999-year leasehold over the farmland on Cherkley to the Beaverbrook Golf Club Limited.

It is hard to fathom how divorcing a Grade II Listed historic home from its surrounding farmland is going to achieve the long term protection of either Cherkley Court or its surrounding countryside for the benefit of future generations.

This has always struck us as a highly speculative development, a business opportunity for a select group of offshore companies and wealthy individuals.

It has long been evident that Longshot have enjoyed the support of the Mole Valley conservative party, as was made abundantly clear in last week's edition of the Leatherhead Advertiser.

It is a pity that this important local issue has been reduced to party politics and fuelled by the moneymakers."

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