Cherkley golf course development: Court of Appeal redefines meaning of "need" in planning cases

The Court of Appeal has set aside an order quashing planning permission for the development of a hotel and spa complex and an exclusive 18 hole golf course.

The decision is a controversial one, with the development site situated in an area of great landscape value ("AGLV"), an area of outstanding natural beauty ("AONB") and the green belt. The court's discussion of the meaning of "need" in the context of a development plan is likely to be of particular interest to local planning authorities.

Planning permission for the development was granted in September 2012 by Mole Valley District Council (the "Council") to Longshot Cherkley Court Limited ("Longshot"). The committee decision to grant consent was by a bare majority of 10 to 9, and contrary to the recommendation in the officer's report.

Cherkley Campaign Limited successfully challenged the decision by way of judicial review, and in August 2013 the permission was quashed. The Council and Longshot appealed.

The issues for the court can be broken down into two main strands:

Development plan

The supporting text to Policy REC12 in the Mole Valley Local Plan provided that "Applicants proposing new [golf] courses will be required to demonstrate that there is a need for further facilities". Cherkley Campaign argued that the committee majority had failed to apply this requirement correctly. Policy REC12 itself contained no reference to need.

The Court of Appeal held that there was no requirement for Longshot to demonstrate need. Whilst the supporting text was plainly relevant to the interpretation of the policy, ultimately it was not a policy or part of a policy. If the development conformed with Policy REC12, it would not conflict with the local plan by failing to satisfy an additional criterion referred to only in the supporting text.

Notwithstanding this conclusion, the court went on to discuss obiter the meaning of "need" and whether Longshot had in any case demonstrated a need for the proposed development. The court considered that this word was capable of encompassing necessity at one end of the spectrum and demand or desire at the other. It should not be interpreted in an unduly exacting or narrow way - rather, the particular meaning should depend on context. In this case, it was accepted that there was no necessity for further golf courses in the area but the proposed development was targeting the very highest end of the golf market and so a demand or desire arose from this elite clientele. The court rejected the view that "need" must relate to the interests of the public or the community as a whole.

Green belt policy and landscape impact

Neither was the court persuaded by Cherkley Campaign's submissions regarding landscape issues. Most notably, it was held that the golf course could not reasonably be regarded as a major development to which paragraph 116 of the NPPF applied, as only the 15th fairway and 16th tee would be physically located within the AONB boundary. This was the case however proximate the rest of the development was to the AONB.

The full judgment can be accessed here. Cherkley Campaign has been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

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