Right to save homes in coastal ruling

COASTAL campaigners in Suffolk are celebrating a landmark ruling which could prevent their homes from being lost to the sea.

Anthony Bond

COASTAL campaigners are celebrating a landmark ruling which could prevent their homes from being lost to the sea.

Charlie England, who lives in a cliff edge property at Easton Bavents, north of Southwold, has won an appeal against Natural England who refused to allow him to maintain the sea defences which protect his property.

The defence was built by his neighbour Peter Boggis - dubbed the King Canute of East Anglia - who has been involved in a long running campaign to prevent Easton Bavents from being lost to the sea.

The 76-year-old now hopes this ruling will help his own two-year long high court battle with Natural England.

Mr Boggis, who is spokesman for Easton Bavents Conservation, said: “This win is very important indeed to all the people living on the coast of Britain.

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“The situation up until now has been that bureaucracy has assumed that it has the power to ensure the destruction of people's property without redress.

“At long last we are beginning to see justice in this matter. If all the people affected by the pressure to destroy our coast by certain environmental lobbies stand shoulder to shoulder, our homes will never be unnecessarily destroyed to satisfy the lust of bureaucracy.”

Since 2002 Mr Boggis has used more than a quarter of a million tons of unwanted clay soil and building site waste to shore up the cliff at Easton Bavents to prevent the properties there from being lost to the sea.

But in 2005 Natural England designated it a Site of Special Scientific Interest which prevented residents from maintaining the sea defence. It argued that protecting the cliffs with the sea defences would prevent the study and analysis of geological exposures in the cliff and that it was necessary in the national interest that natural erosion should continue.

But following an appeal by Mr England an independent inspector reported to DEFRA that it was better that the site of special scientific interest was protected against erosion than by allowing it to be destroyed by the sea. The inspector also decided that Natural England's plan to force erosion on the property was against Mr England's human rights. The environment secretary Hilary Benn this week accepted the inspector's report and agreed that Mr England could maintain the sea defence in front of his property.

Mr England said: “As an artist I generally view much through rose-coloured spectacles and consider all people to be supportive and fair. This spat with Natural England has started to change my mind.

However a light beams at the end of the tunnel and the secretary of state is that light. I thank God and my wonderfully supportive and informative solicitors and barristers. Fairness, social justice and above all my human rights have won through.”

Commenting on the case Natural England would only say that it had received the inspector's report and was considering the decision. However it is likely that this ruling will have widespread consequences for other coastal campaigners throughout the country.

Solicitor Peter Scott, who represented Mr England, said: “This is a ground-breaking decision. It shows that Natural England is likely to be unable through the creation of Sights of Special Scientific Interest to force people to lose their properties to coastal erosion without paying compensation. This is a very significant development in a long-running campaign to save Easton Bavents from being destroyed in its entirety by the North Sea.”

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer added: “This is a landmark case and very much underlines the reason why I set up Suffolk Coast Against Retreat and proves that we all have to fight together in order to win the battle. The next battle will be to save Southwold Harbour and the Blyth Estuary.”

A spokesman for Waveney District Council said: “This ruling appears likely to have significant implications for Natural England's management of environmental assets

“Nevertheless, there are clearly further issues to resolve in respect of planning and waste licensing and we await further developments with interest.”

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