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PROGRESS REPORT

LEGAL

Remember 'Swampy', the ecowarrior who became a national figure after spending a week in a series of tunnels dug in the path of the proposed extension to the A30 road in Fairmile? , writes Kim Franklin.

Daniel Hooper's brief moment of fame was confirmed with an appearance on the BBC's current affairs comedy show Have I Got News for You, but not before an unlikely alliance had been struck between the environmental protesters and the 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' defenders of Middle England.

These incongruous bedmates were united in their objective of preventing progress, particularly when it took the form of demolishing the countryside to build new roads.

But the extreme tactics of Mr Hooper and his fellow environmentalists sparked a counter-movement among those with a more enthusiastic approach to development, who rallied under the slogan 'Sod Off, Swampy'. Little has been heard of him since.

Lying down in its path is not the only way to prevent progress, as was demonstrated by Bill Ellson in his recent case against the London Borough of Greenwich and developers Lane Castle. Ellson traded the paraphernalia of eco-terrorism for the blunter, but distinctly drier, instrument of the law and championed the cause of Borthwick Wharf, a splendid Victorian structure in Deptford, south London.

The developers had been granted planning permission for the demolition and redevelopment of the wharf building. Ellson, who maintained that he was acting in the best interests of the local community, challenged the grant of planning permission on the grounds that one of the members of the planning committee had a conict of interest. Whatever the merits of the complaint, it did the trick, because the planning permission was withdrawn.

Despite this spanner in the works, the machinery of progress did not grind to a halt. The developers moved to demolish Borthwick Wharf, pending a renewed planning application. The building was not listed. They did not need permission. They had served the required notices. They were not, they said, acting unlawfully.

Undeterred, Ellson obtained legal aid and won a court order restraining demolition. He argued that the demolition should only be carried out once the new planning permission had been applied for and granted.

As the committee had changed, there was no saying what the outcome of any application would be and until it was decided, the wharf should remain.

The developers pointed out that they were incurring both the immediate wasted demolition costs and the longer-term cost of maintaining the building. Any redevelopment of the site would involve the demolition of the wharf. They could get on with their site investigations, including agreed archaeological investigations, and they could carry out repairs to the river wall safely.

Ironically, the judge was swayed by the environmental statement which made no objection to the demolition of the wharf. He held that the demolition was not unlawful and ought to proceed. Although he didn't put it quite that way, it was another case of 'Sod Off, Swampy'.

Kim Franklin is a barrister and chartered arbitrator at Crown Office Chambers in London. Visit www.crownofficechambers. com

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