At the Shore
Visiting the sea for its own sake is a two-hundred-year-old idea, roughly speaking. John Nash finished his expansion of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton in 1822. A few years later, Boulogne, on the other side of the Channel, became an early beach resort: ‘You will find whatever you are looking for there,’ Manet wrote to a friend.
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[*] Faber, 218 pp., £9.99, August, 978 0 571 34793 3.
Vol. 40 No. 17 · 13 September 2018
Inigo Thomas forecasts that Mar-a-Lago will eventually be ‘worn down by the actions of the waves’ (LRB, 30 August). In 2016 the Guardian reported that the Florida estate may face four months of flooding per year by 2030, and may be underwater more often than not by 2100. All possible, but the Low Countries are still there for a reason: dykes, berms, bulkheads, jetties, vegetated dunes. And Trump can play Gore when it suits him. In December, he got permission for a 38,000-tonne sea wall at his golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare. The original application upbraided the Irish government’s wishy-washy predictions. ‘In our view’, Trump said, ‘it could reasonably be expected that the rate of sea level rise might become twice of that presently occurring.’
Vol. 40 No. 18 · 27 September 2018
Inigo Thomas reminds us that rising sea levels and tropical storms will, eventually, destroy the monstrous pretensions of Mar-a-Lago, but the sharp contrast he draws between the open beaches of England and Florida’s enclosed enclaves of privilege should be challenged (LRB, 30 August). He is wrong to assert that ‘beaches in the UK are open to all, unless they form part of a naval base.’ Certainly, most beaches are open, because they are held as crown property and a convention has developed to allow free public access to them. But there is no right of access, unless public rights of way or a right to roam have been registered. That there is no general right of public access to beaches was established in an 1821 case, despite a very strong argument by the dissenting judge that such a right did and should exist in common law.
The Supreme Court with a touch of reluctance confirmed this position in 2015. The decision concerned a private beach in Newhaven in East Sussex to which public access had been withdrawn. An attempt was made by both the local public and the local authority to register the beach as a ‘village green’ in order to establish and protect rights of access. This was not the first time such a strategy had been deployed, but the 2015 judgment has now made it much more difficult to use registration as commons or village greens as a means of keeping access open. While this case dealt with a privately owned beach (even in the UK a good proportion of beaches are privately owned), the judgment makes clear its application to crown property too.
In Florida, as in other American states, the proactive development of ‘public trust doctrine’ has emerged as one line of defence against enclosure. Caribbean islands (not included in the Supreme Court survey) such as Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia which, unlike Jamaica, have a history of open public access to all beaches, are now so shattered by the economic fallout from hugely destructive tropical storms that many find themselves caught in a rapid shift towards the privatisation favoured by overseas investors and tourists seeking ‘exclusive’ enclaves in paradise.
Kent Law School, Canterbury