A Midlands law firm is celebrating after helping a pensioner protect his home.
Peter Boggis last week won a major victory in the battle to save his house from falling into the sea after a High Court judge ruled that a conservation agency could not prevent him from maintaining his own coastal defences.
Judge Mr Justice Blair ruled that a decision by Natural England to allow the fossil-bearing cliffs near his home in East Bavents, Suffolk, to continue to erode “for scientific reasons” was unlawful. Mr Boggis had spent years building his own defences to protect his home and more than a dozen others from coastal erosion.
In his fight against English Nature and its successor Natural England, Mr Boggis was represented by Peter Scott, an environmental specialist with Worcestershire lawyers Parkinson Wright and barristers Gregory Jones and James Neill.
Mr Scott, who represented both Mr Boggis and the Easton Bavents Conservation group he set up, said: “This is massively important for the people of Easton Bavents, because it takes away the authority of Natural England to prohibit them from maintaining the soft sea defence and protecting their property as well as the cliffs. They are no longer compelled to pursue appeals against refusals as Mr Boggis did.
“However, this judgment is also important because it recognizes that managed retreat schemes can have adverse effects on very important European nature conservation sites, and that the ability of the authorities to promote unlimited coastal erosion is subject to very stringent restrictions of European law in the vicinity of the many Natura 2000 sites around the coast.
“Natural erosion can no longer be viewed, as Natural England tends to, as ‘favourable condition’ and coast defence cannot be viewed as ‘unfavourable condition’.
“Mr Justice Blair’s judgement lifts a great shadow from my mind and gives hope for the future for those that live by the coast of Britain,” said Mr Boggis.
“We have lived a nightmare in recent years; inconvenient or not to bureaucracy the defence of the coast should not be walked away from.”
Mr Boggis had obtained a waste exemption certificate from the Environment Agency and built a kilometre-long soft sea defence by bringing in and compacting 250,000 tonnes of material. Once compacted, this provided a safe access across the beach.
The purpose of this sacrificial sea defence is that the material can be washed away in place of the cliffs behind it. This requires constant topping up.
But in December 2005 English Nature announced it would be designating the area where the sea defence had been built as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. At that point Mr Boggis was technically committing a criminal act by reinforcing the sea defence wall.
In June 2006 English Nature then confirmed the notification of the SSSI despite objections by local landowners and residents.
Mr Boggis then launched a judicial review, backed up by Parkinson Wright, in order to be able to continue to maintain the soft sea defence.
A grateful Mr Boggis said: “As I start again the maintenance and reconstruction of the simple sea defence of Easton Bavents, my neighbours will again be able to sleep without worry, instead of wondering if their homes will be lost in the next storm.
The people of Southwold will know it is no longer becoming a more un-defendable promontory.
“The much-loved bitterns of Easton Broad will have a home. This is the home of the bitterns and ours as well.”