Naturist spa loses legal challenge
A naturist spa "for consenting adults" has lost its legal challenge against an enforcement notice which threatens its future.
Since 2004, the premises at Kestrel Hydro in Staines-upon-Thames - within sight of Heathrow Terminal Five - have partly been used as a private club for "naturist pursuits and sexual activities".
In that time, it had operated successfully, discreetly and without a single complaint, its lawyers told Mr Justice Holgate at London's High Court.
But the notice issued by Spelthorne Borough Council in August 2013 required Kestrel to stop being used as a club, and directed the removal of hardstanding and outbuildings in the car park and of a covered walkway, marquee-style structure and shed.
This was not because of traffic, noise or other disturbance, but on the basis that it represented inappropriate development within the Green Belt for which no very special circumstances had been demonstrated.
Saira Kabir Sheikh QC said that Kestrel's case was that the site was an ideal and sustainable location for a naturist facility of the sort provided - despite being with the Green Belt.
It had a substantial body of support from local residents, businesses and patrons and met the needs of a section of the community as there were no similar clubs in the borough or in the wider local area.
The inspector who conducted a public inquiry last year, and went on to dismiss Kestrel's case, said that he heard from a number of people who clearly derived significant enjoyment from using the club and, in some cases, health benefits - but none of them lived locally and some travelled significant distances.
He noted that, whilst sexual activity was not obligatory, it was clearly encouraged and facilitated.
In the stable block, several rooms of the house itself and in the cabins, there were just vinyl mattresses and paper towel dispensers - while the stable block also contained dungeon equipment.
His findings concluded that limited weight could be attached to any community benefit offered by the club - which was a highly specialised, adults only facility.
He added: "Any moral objection that anyone might have to this is clearly not a planning consideration. There is no indication that anything illegal is taking place, or that activities on the site affect anyone beyond the site."
Ms Sheikh, who wanted the case sent back to be redetermined, claimed the inspector's reasoning failed to acknowledge important components of the case and, if he had given proper regard to them, his conclusion may well have been different.
But today, the judge rejected Kestrel's appeal - which was contested by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Spelthorne Borough Council - against the inspector's findings, saying its arguments were without merit.
Describing the inspector's decision as carefully reasoned, the judge said that he gave Kestrel a full opportunity to present the best evidence it could, but the material put before him was "lightweight".
The criticism made of him was "plainly incorrect" and there was no legal basis for attacking his decision.
Kestrel's lawyers said they would consider the judge's ruling before deciding whether to go to the Court of Appeal.