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Neighbour nuisance - the importance of existing planning permission

John Bowman


United Kingdom

Neighbour nuisance - the importance of existing planning permission

Informer Feature


Neighbour nuisance - the importance of existing planning permission

The recent case of Coventry and Another v Lawrence & Others resulted in a couple whose home was blighted by noise from a nearby motorsports venue being denied a remedy. 

The Court of Appeal refused a private nuisance claim for an injunction and damages by a couple who bought a house near to a stadium and motor racetrack.  The couple bought the house in 2006, unaware that it was located around 500 metres from the stadium and around 800 metres from the racetrack.  The use of the stadium and racetrack had been authorised by a number of planning permissions and a change of use certificate obtained over many years.  These authorised various activities including speedway and stockcar racing.  The racing was authorised between specified hours, on restricted days, and within defined noise limits.

In the High Court, the judge awarded damages to the couple, and an injunction against the operators of the racing complex which would have greatly reduced their ability to continue racing activities.  The judge considered that as the permissions only allowed periodic use of the facility for racing, they did not permanently change the nature of the locality, and that therefore the noise caused could constitute a private nuisance.

The Court of Appeal disagreed.  It decided that planning permissions and change of use certificate had changed the character of the locality, and the noise levels against which a claim for private nuisance was to be measured had to include the noise authorised by the local planning authority.  It noted that the various planning consents were publicly available and could have been inspected by the couple or their professional advisers before deciding to proceed with their purchase.  However, if the racing exceeded the noise levels permitted by the planning permissions, then the claimants might have been able to make out a case in nuisance.

It should be noted that the grant of planning permission does not authorise the commission of a nuisance.  However, it is a question of fact as to whether the grant and subsequent implementation of a planning permission has the effect of changing the character of the locality.  Whether certain activities constitute a nuisance must be decided against the background of a locality's character.

The case highlights the importance of making careful enquiries about nearby developments before purchasing property, as conventional questions to local authorities and the seller are unlikely to identify planning permissions for land which is not immediately adjacent to the property being acquired.

The case also emphasises the need to ensure that when purchasing a development, that it is currently being operated within the permitted noise (or lighting or odour) limits so as to avoid potential claims.

John Bowman is a Partner in the Planning and Environment group at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP

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