Looking to carry out development work on the foreshore? The land between high and low tide is closely regulated by a number of different public bodies, so you may need to obtain more consents than you think.


Firstly, you need to ensure that you have ownership of the foreshore in question, or the grant of a lease or licence to carry out those works from the owner.  Whilst a large part of the foreshore around Cornwall is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, there are areas that are in private as well as public hands.  Some areas of the foreshore remain unregistered, so it may be necessary to confirm your ownership of the land by reviewing old deeds.

Planning permission

Any development of land between mean high water springs and mean low water springs consisting of building, engineering, mining or other operations require planning permission to be granted by the local planning authority (LPA).

Planning decisions are made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. So, it’s important to demonstrate to the LPA how your development meets the development plan policies.

In certain cases development may be ‘permitted development’ and will not require a planning application.

Marine licences

Construction alteration or improvement works, dredging, depositing, incinerating or removing objects and the scuttling of any vessel or floating container within this area are likely to require a marine licence from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).  Certain exemptions apply depending on the works and the type of organisation carrying them out, so it’s worth checking the relevant exemptions.  For example, some activities are exempt where a harbour licence has been obtained (see below).

Marine licences are determined in accordance with marine policy documents, unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise.

Harbour licence

If the works are carried out in a harbour authority’s jurisdiction then it is likely that its consent will be required.   Exemptions apply and it is worth reviewing the relevant statute to determine whether those exemptions can be utilised.  For example, some acts permit the rebuilding of works which existed prior to the requirement to obtain consent.

Environmental permit

An environmental permit is needed for any ‘flood risk activity’, such as work on or near a main river, on or near a flood defence structure, in a flood plain, or on or near a sea defence.  There are exclusions. For example, certain maintenance works, or if you have applied to the MMO for a marine licence, the Environment Agency (EA)will decide if the terms and conditions of the marine licence will cover its concerns. If you need an environmental permit, the EA will tell you in writing.

Wildlife and Countryside Act consent

If the area of land is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) then you need to consult the list of operations likely to damage the special interest of that particular SSSI.  It is very common for these lists to include the erection of permanent or temporary structures.  A consent is required from Natural England for any of those activities within the SSSI.  However, where planning permission has been granted, then this acts as a defence to any prosecution for carrying out those works.  Be mindful that planning permission does not create a defence to environmental damage.

Coastal protection consent

If the works are coast protection works, or involve the excavation of the seashore, the consent of the coast protection authority is likely to be required.  Coast protection works include works of construction, alteration, improvement, demolition or removal for the purpose of the protection of any land and includes the sowing or planting of vegetation for the said purpose.

Criminal offences

It is a criminal offence to carry out works without obtaining a relevant consent for all of the above (except for a failure to obtain planning permission).

Type of licence/consent Act/SI Authority Exemptions
Planning Town and Country Planning Act 1990 LPA Permitted development
Harbour licence Local Harbour Act (if any) Local Harbour Authority As per the relevant act
Marine licence Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 MMO Yes, as defined in the relevant order
SSSI consent Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Natural England Planning permission is a defence
Environmental permit for ‘flood risk activity’ Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016 EA May not be required where marine licence applied for
Coast protection consent Coast Protection Act 1949 Local authority Maintenance or repair


For advice on your project or any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Chris Tofts in our marine team. Chris is a partner and head of planning at Stephens Scown. He can be contacted on 01872 265100 or planning@stephens-scown.co.uk