The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has recently handed down its decision in respect of the unusual case of the erosion of Hopton Beach, Norfolk.
Bourne Leisure, which owns the Hopton Holiday Village, has sued Great Yarmouth Port Authority for compensation in excess of £15m. Following the construction of the new Outer Harbour at Great Yarmouth, which extends 600m out into the North Sea, the beach at Hopton, which is 3.5km south of the Outer Harbour, ‘disappeared’, the sea defences collapsed and subsequently the cliff adjoining the old beach and access route to the beach suffered collapse.
Bourne Leisure had to incur in excess of £9m simply to install new sea defences and repair the damaged cliff on top of other losses it suffered. A new 900m rock revetment was installed by Bourne Leisure in 2014-15 along with nine 50m rock groynes in what was believed to be the largest privately funded sea defence scheme at the time.
In providing a decision in respect of preliminary issues in the claim, the Upper Tribunal has ruled that the pleaded claim would give rise to an action in nuisance (absent statutory authority) and in doing so has ruled:
The Upper Tribunal distinguished its decision about Hopton Beach from previous cases whereby landowners had avoided liability when the owner created a structure on their land to protect it from the sea which had the effect of diverting the water onto another’s land and causing damage. In previous cases, landowners avoided liability as they were defending their own land against a ‘common enemy’, the sea, and it was held to be a ‘reasonable user’ of the land to erect sea defences. In the case of Hopton Beach the landowner in question, the Port Authority, created the Outer Harbour for commercial use, and not to defend its land from the sea so it was unable to rely on the ‘common enemy’ rule to avoid liability.
Where developers are creating structures in water it is clear they can be held liable if the consequent alterations in coastal processes – including tidal flow – cause damage to other landowners.
Photo by .Martin.