Appalled countryside campaigners are looking at appealing to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal today allowed development on a historic estate in the greenbelt.
The Cherkley Campaign’s solicitor said they are considering an appeal after Law Lords overturned a High Court judgement that blocked an exclusive golf course and hotel at Cherkley Court near Leatherhead.
And he urged the developers to act responsibly and do nothing to damage an ancient meadow until the position is clarified.
The shock decision follows an appeal by Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) and developer Longshot Cherkley Court after a High Court judge quashed planning permission granted by MVDC for the development last August.
Kristina Kenworthy, co-founder of the Cherkley Campaign, said they have asked the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal, but if it is not granted then they will apply to the Supreme Court directly for permission.
She said: “We will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Andy Smith, Surrey branch director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "This is an appalling judgment by the Court of Appeal, which, if it is allowed to stand, will set a dangerous precedent for local planning.
"The Cherkley Campaign, with CPRE's support, will be seeking to overturn this decision as soon as possible. The Supreme Court must rule on this case as it is of national significance.
"In rejecting last year's High Court judgment, the Appeal Court has effectively said that a local authority's development committee is at liberty to depart from its own district's Local Plan whenever it chooses.
"This decision runs a coach and horses through the planning system. It is especially alarming that that Mr Justice Richards has said in his judgment that commercial demand is the same as community need.
"We certainly do not 'need' a luxury golf course for the super-rich in Leatherhead, especially if it means wrecking precious countryside and farmland in order to create this development."
Richard Buxton, solicitor for the Cherkley Campaign, said: "This case raised fundamental questions about decision making affecting the environment and paves the way for a completely unaccountable free-for-all, even in relation to decisions about large developments which are supposed to be subject to strongest rules relating to assessment of environmental impact and transparent decision making.
"CCL is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court to review whether the process adopted by the Council, firmly struck down by the High Court, but now endorsed by the Court of Appeal, really does meet the standards the law requires.
"At stake are not only areas of parkland which have already been substantially damaged by the golf course construction, but which the developers had undertaken to restore if the decision went against them, but also an area known as "the Forty Acre Field" which is partially inside the existing AONB and which is of high ecological value.
"The developers are being asked to be responsible and at least not do any work on the Forty Acre Field until the position is clarified."
Mrs Kenworthy said: "The Cherkley Campaign is extremely disappointed by the Court of Appeal's decision upholding Mole Valley District Council's decision to permit the golf course development at Cherkley Court, Leatherhead.
"Mr Justice Haddon-Cave in the High Court last year said in the strongest terms that the council had acted illegally in the way it had reached its decision.
"It went against the firm recommendations of its officers, and which the developers argued before the Court of Appeal was a "political" one for members.
"But the Court of Appeal decided the council's members' reasoning had been good enough, allowing the work, which has been put on hold since the High Court's decision last August, to proceed.
"Opponents of the scheme had said it was contrary to the Local Development Plan, Green Belt policy, that there was no basis for saying that the golf course plans would conserve or enhance what was already designated as an AGLV (Area of Great Landscape Value) and that in any case the council had not given proper reasons for its decision.
"The Cherkley Campaign, an umbrella group for many concerned individuals and organisations, took the case not only on its own important merits but because Mole Valley council's decision set what objectors saw as an appalling precedent for the way local authorites make decisions affecting landscape and the environment in England and Wales.
"We felt that Mole Valley's decision went beyond all norms of acceptable local government conduct, and that the council should be called to account.
"One result of the case as it stands is that the Cherkley area will not be eligible for inclusion in the Surrey Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) when the boundary is reviewed, which it otherwise would have been.
"It is appalling that private interests should trump a national designation in this way."
Ian Todd, director of Longshot Cherkley Court, said: "From our point of view 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."
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.
"Such a decision reinforces the validity of the decision-making process that MVDC undertook."