South Walsham landowner in battle over broad

David Pooley, right, is facing legal action for restoring Sotshole Broad without planning permission. Pictured with Peter Crook, chairman of South Walsham Parish Council, who approves of the work David has done. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A landowner who spent three years restoring a 'lost' broad and bringing it back to life is furious that he is facing legal action over his labour of love.

Retired oil company executive David Pooley, of The Street, South Walsham, only learned the Broads Authority was threatening to prosecute him when he read about it last month in the EDP.

Planning officers said Mr Pooley had 'suburbanised' a Broadland beauty spot by putting in quay heading at Sotshole Broad and building paths and boardwalk on the 60-acre site along the boundary of South Walsham and Ranworth.

The planning committee resolved to seek prosecution if negotiations to have it restored to its original condition failed. However, Mr Pooley, 64, insists the wooden quay heading is only there to hold up the bank, and the paths and boardwalk are to give him access to manage the woodland.

In a leaflet given out to people enjoying the bluebell walk from neighbouring Fairhaven Garden, which has been extended to take in Sotshole Broad, he writes: 'Please enjoy Sotshole. This may be your last opportunity if the Broads Authority has its way.


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'Sotshole has not been 'urbanised'. It has been restored. This is one broad that has been brought back to life without any public funding - and now the Broads Authority seriously wants us to believe that it is to be 'restored' to its 'original (dead) condition'.'

The father-of-two, who gives access to the public at open days as well as for the bluebell walk, is being given unanimous backing from South Walsham Parish Council.

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Council chairman Peter Crook said: 'Local residents have been interested to see the scheme progress and everyone is astounded that the Broads Authority has threatened legal action.'

When Mr Pooley bought the site from Fairhaven Garden in 2005, he viewed it as a project for his eventual retirement.

And after he left his job as boss of an oil company based in West Africa, residents in South Walsham and Ranworth looked on with interest as a succession of diggers, tractors and dredgers began arriving on the site.

Over a three-year period, Sotshole Broad, a rather vainglorious name for a shrinking pond, was restored to its dimensions shown on a map from 1886.

Mr Pooley said Broads Authority officers had approached him in 2008 and after inspecting the broad in a rowing boat, and finding it devoid of life apart from lilies and reeds, suggested they could work with him to restore it with the help of government funding.

A year later, the authority advised him the money was being used on other larger projects and Mr Pooley embarked on the scheme without any financial help in January 2010.

He said: 'When I started, the whole site was totally inaccessible. The water was only 6in deep and the broad was totally dead. There were no fish or anything.

'We have taken three years to dig it out to a depth of 3ft to 4ft. It is now teeming with fish, including pike, and there are otters and kingfishers about.

'Swans have nested for the past three years and my neighbour Charles Cator has mentioned birds I have never heard of.'

He said one of the new paths he had created, which was on the bluebell walk, was giving access to wet woodland for the first time in decades.

A Broads Authority spokesman said they were happy the broad had been dredged and were not asking Mr Pooley to fill it back in. However, they had told him to apply for retrospective planning permission concerning the rest of the work he had done on the site.

Andrea Long, director of planning and strategy, said: 'Sotshole Broad is in an isolated, remote and unspoilt location and we feel that the additional hard edged quay heading and boardwalks are inappropriate for the area. The Broads Authority always tries to resolve these matters through negotiation rather than taking formal action.'

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