Cliff erosion row victory for conservation watchdog

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The Independent Online

His obsession with bidding the North Sea to retreat has led to him being nicknamed a “latter-day Canute”, the legendary Danish king of England who attempted the same feat.

Today, the pensioner Peter Boggis remained defiant and determined to save his home from the sea, as appeal judges found in favour of conservationists and ruled that the retired engineer must seek planning permission for his DIY coastal defences.

Insisting he was not disappointed by the court’s decision, the 78-year-old said: “It is a stepping point. They have knocked a wall down but I shall stand on the wall and throw bricks at them, with the advantage of being in a higher position than them.”

Since 2002, Mr Boggis has spent tens of thousands of pounds installing his own “soft” sea defences built using 250,000 tonnes of compacted clay soil in front of the cliffs near his home in Easton Bavents, Suffolk. He is adamant that they have already saved four of his neighbours’ properties from crashing into the sea.

“My neighbours matter as well as myself. More than anything this could possibly be used to the detriment of everybody else living on the coast in Britain. It is a battle for everyone against Natural England’s dictatorial organisation that is unwilling to consider humans,” he said.

Last year, the High Court ruled that plans by Natural England to allow fossil-bearing cliffs near Southwold in Suffolk to erode naturally for scientific reasons were unlawful, because it had failed to carry out an assessment of how a nearby wildlife haven might be affected. But today, three appeal judges in London quashed the ruling.

Mr Boggis, whose house The Warren is 302ft (82m) from the cliff edge, has been banned from maintaining his sea defences since 2005, and he said today that only 50,000 tonnes remained. Other properties, the court heard, were much closer, and one had already lost about 3ft of its garden.

“I am not unsympathetic to the plight of Mr Boggis and the other residents who can see the cliff face remorselessly approaching the boundaries of their properties,” said Lord Justice Sullivan, sitting with Lords Justices Mummery and Longmore.

But he added that Mr Boggis’s substantial defence works were “a continuing engineering operation” which required planning permission and consent under the Coastal Protection Act. The only lawful course open to the pensioner, and other members of Easton Bavents Conservation, was to apply for permission and go through the correct planning process.

After the hearing, Mr Boggis said he would only apply for planning permission if it had Natural England’s backing. “I am not walking into the trap of wasting tens of thousands of pounds on a beleaguered planning application that Natural England will convince the council not to give,” he said.

Mr Boggis and Easton Bavents Conservation were ordered to pay Natural England’s costs and were refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, but they can still petition the Supreme Court for permission, which he said they would do.