The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has begun a fundraising drive to stop a world-famous Surrey estate being converted into a golf course, which its local authority has said is necessary to prevent an oligarch from buying it.
Last month, developers were granted planning permission by Mole Valley District Council to convert the Cherkley Court Estate, which Winston Churchill frequently visited during World War Two, near Leatherhead, into 'Beaverbrook Golf Club'. Lord Beaverbrook was the press baron who lived there for most of the 20th century.
However, the CPRE has stated that the plan for the venue, which is in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a designated special area of conservation, will harm biodiversity. A spokesman added that Surrey already has 140 golf courses.
"The environmental damage that is going to be done creating a golf course and a leisure complex on this site is absolutely wrecking the biodiversity," said Andy Smith, from the CPRE.
He added that the decision to give the go ahead to the development contravened the council's own rules.
"We're talking to our legal advisers and we're in the process of putting the funding in place for a legal challenge.
"We believe the council's decision-making process was flawed and the decision is seriously compromised. We will be seeking to prove this and to push the council back to the drawing board. It is quite wrong that the 'Local Plan' can be flouted, the council's own planning officers ignored and the advice of such a wide range of environmental experts completely disregarded."
"We cannot allow this precious and sensitive area of Surrey countryside to be wrecked for the sake of a few hundred rich golfers, paying over £100,000 each for the privilege."
However, councillor John Northcott said that as Cherkley Court was closed to the public in 2009, and put up for sale the following year with an asking price of £20m, it could have been bought by an "oligarch and closed to the public." He added that current plans would see the house reopen for public visits.
The planning permission includes the provision that the estate's owner provides a £240,000 bond to reinstate the golf course to meadowland should the development fail within five years.