The Court of Appeal has dramatically revived plans to turn Lord Beaverbrook’s former country home –considered a ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Surrey countryside – into an ‘elite’ golf course, hotel, health club and spa. The Court overturned a High Court ruling which had stripped the owners of Grade II listed Cherkley Court of planning permission for the planned £50 million revamp.
Opponents to the proposals had argued that there was no ‘need’ for the high-end course, which was to have a membership of only about 400 well-heeled golfers, due to a large number of other courses in the area. The High Court had ruled that, in granting planning consent by a slim majority of 10 councillors to nine, Mole Valley District Council had ‘at best paid lip service to Green Belt policy’.
However, in allowing an appeal by the Council and the mansion’s owners, the Court found that ‘need’, in planning terms, did not mean that a development in the Green Belt was required to be in the public interest or to benefit the community as a whole.
There was no reason in principle why a planning policy should not lay down a requirement of need which was capable of being met by a private demand for the development in question, including a demand that arose outside the local area, as in the case of a facility catering for a national or even global market.
The proper inference to be drawn was that the majority of councillors had concluded that, to the extent that there would be inappropriate development, there existed very special circumstances that clearly outweighed the harm. The economic benefits of the scheme would include local job creation and the attraction of visitors to the area and the majority was entitled to take those factors into account.
Cherkley Court 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 and his widow lived there until hers in 1994.