A decision approving property developer Longshot's plans to turn Lord Beaverbrook's former country home, considered a "jewel in the crown" of the Surrey countryside, into a hotel, health club and spa and high-end golf course, have been quashed in the High Court.
Today's decision came after a campaign group mounted a legal challenge to the £45m to £50m Cherkley Court scheme.
After hearing the case in June, judge Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, today backed their challenge to Mole Valley District Council's decision to grant planning permission for the plan.
In a 56-page judgment, he accused the councillors who approved the scheme of "at best paying lip service to green belt policy" but said they had not applied it.
The judge said that the decision of the nine was - "legally flawed, contrary to planning policy, failed to take account of material considerations, irrational and the reasons given for it were inadequate".
He refused permission for an appeal against his decision but it is still open to the developers to re-apply direct to the Court of Appeal for permission to challenge his ruling. No decision was taken on legal costs and this will be considered at a further hearing in September.
The plan was for an "exclusive private members golf course" which would have a membership restricted to approximately 400 members, some of whom would be targeted to come from overseas.
In backing the opponents to the scheme, the judge said the case had brought developers and private campaigners into conflict and that the council, in granting consent for the scheme, had failed to consider the matter properly.
Among other things he said the council had failed to apply green belt policy. He said the council had failed to conscientiously consider whether "very special circumstances" existed which "clearly outweighed" the harm to landscape the scheme would cause.
He continued : "The reasons were inadequate. The council majority at best paid lip service to the green belt policy but did not apply it."
Condemning the way the councillors reached their decision on the matter the judge said: "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 of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONAB) and Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV). "
"The council majority's conclusion that the overall landscape character 'would not be compromised' by the imposition of a golf course on the Surrey Hills AONB and AGLV was perverse. The council majority failed to have regard to the policy of 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," he said.
"I therefore quash the decision by the Mole Valley District Council on 21 September to grant planning permission to Longshot Cherkley Court Ltd to develop Cherkley Court and Cherkley Estate near Leatherhead in Surrey, into exclusive golf and hotel facilities on the grounds that the council's decision was variously legally flawed, contrary to planning policy, failed to take account of material considerations, irrational and the reasons given for it were inadequate."