Planning A Nuisance? - New Case Law Regarding Noisy Neighbours

Does obtaining planning permission for a development now mean there is no nuisance? The recent case of Coventry v Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13 regarding motor cross racing seems to suggest that it could do.

In 1975 planning permission was granted for the construction of a speedway stadium near Mildenhall, Suffolk. In 1997 stock car and banger racing become lawful and by 1992 planning permission had been granted for motor cross racing.

In 2006 the Lawrences bought a home within 860 metres of the stadium and within a few months, having complained about the noise to the owners of the stadium, they issued Court proceedings alleging nuisance and seeking an injunction to prevent the activity at the stadium continuing.

The High Court initially ruled in favour of the Lawrences but the Court of Appeal overturned the decision and ruled in favour of the stadium owners. The case recently came before the Supreme Court who upheld the ruling in favour of the stadium owners.

The Supreme Court was asked to consider 5 questions:

1. Is it possible to acquire a prescriptive right to commit what would otherwise be a nuisance by noise?

The Court held it was possible but it must have been a nuisance for at least 20 years

2. Is it any defence to show that the claimants came to the nuisance?

No. It is established law that this is no defence even though, in this case, the Lawrences came to the nuisance some 31 years after the activities first began.

 3. What is the relevance of the defendants’ activities to the character of the locality?

In order to determine whether a defendant’s use of its land is reasonable, a court must consider that use in the context of the character of the locality. However a use that is unlawful (like a nuisance) must be disregarded.

4. What is the relevance of the defendants’ planning permission to liability?

It is settled law that planning permission of itself cannot authorise a nuisance. However, the implementation of a planning permission may cause a locality to evolve so that what once constituted a nuisance no longer does.

5. What approach should be taken as regards remedies?

 In the most controversial part of his leading judgment, Lord Nueberger stated that if a nuisance is established then an injunction restraining use should usually be granted. However, the grant of planning permission may be evidence that the carrying on of the activity which is permitted, but which causes the nuisance, is of benefit to the public. Accordingly, in such cases, it may be more appropriate for damages to be awarded rather than an injunction.

The supporting judgment of Lord Carnwath also observed that planning permissions generally represent society’s view of the appropriate balance of uses in a particular area, taking account of both the social needs of the area and of the maintenance of an acceptable environment for its occupants.

Posted on 09/24/2014 by Ortolan

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