Lawrence (Katherine) and Another v Fen Tigers Ltd & others (No 1)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeLord Neuberger,Lord Carnwath,Lord Mance,Lord Clarke,Lord Sumption
Judgment Date26 Feb 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] UKSC 13

[2014] UKSC 13

THE SUPREME COURT

Hilary Term

On appeal from: [2012] EWCA Civ 26

before

Lord Neuberger, President

Lord Mance

Lord Clarke

Lord Sumption

Lord Carnwath

Coventry and others
(Respondents)
and
Lawrence and another
(Appellants)

Appellant

Stephen Hockman QC William Upton

(Instructed by Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law)

Respondent

Robert McCracken QC Sebastian Kokelaar

(Instructed by Pooley Bendall Watson)

Heard on 12, 13 and 14 November 2013

Lord Neuberger
The issues raised by this appeal
1

This appeal raises a number of points in connection with the law of private nuisance, a common law tort. While the law also recognises public nuisance, a common law offence, this appeal is only concerned with private nuisance, so all references hereafter to nuisance are to private nuisance. It should also be mentioned at the outset that the type of nuisance alleged in this case is nuisance in the sense of personal discomfort, in particular nuisance by noise, as opposed to actual injury to the claimant's property (such as discharge of noxious material or removal of support).

2

As Lord Goff of Chieveley explained in Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd [1997] AC 655, 688, "[t]he term 'nuisance' is properly applied only to such actionable user of land as interferes with the enjoyment by the plaintiff of rights in land", quoting from Newark, The Boundaries of Nuisance (1949) 65 LQR 480. See also per Lord Hoffmann at pp 705–707, where he explained that this principle may serve to limit the extent to which a nuisance claim could be based on activities which offended the senses of occupiers of property as opposed to physically detrimental to the property.

3

A nuisance can be defined, albeit in general terms, as an action (or sometimes a failure to act) on the part of a defendant, which is not otherwise authorised, and which causes an interference with the claimant's reasonable enjoyment of his land, or to use a slightly different formulation, which unduly interferes with the claimant's enjoyment of his land. As Lord Wright said in Sedleigh-Denfield v O'Callaghan [1940] AC 880, 903, "a useful test is perhaps what is reasonable according to the ordinary usages of mankind living in society, or more correctly in a particular society".

4

In Sturges v Bridgman (1879) 11 Ch D 852, 865, Thesiger LJ, giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal, famously observed that whether something is a nuisance "is a question to be determined, not merely by an abstract consideration of the thing itself, but in reference to its circumstances", and "what would be a nuisance in Belgrave Square would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey". Accordingly, whether a particular activity causes a nuisance often depends on an assessment of the locality in which the activity concerned is carried out.

5

As Lord Goff said in Cambridge Water Company v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 2 AC 264, 299, liability for nuisance is "kept under control by the principle of reasonable user — the principle of give and take as between neighbouring occupiers of land, under which '… those acts necessary for the common and ordinary use and occupation of land and houses may be done, if conveniently done, without subjecting those who do them to an action': see Bamford v Turnley (1862) 3 B & S 62, 83, per Bramwell B". I agree with Lord Carnwath in para 179 below that reasonableness in this context is to be assessed objectively.

6

The issues raised on this appeal are as follows:

  • • The extent, if any, to which it is open to a defendant to contend that he has established a prescriptive right to commit what would otherwise be a nuisance by means of noise;

  • • The extent, if any, to which a defendant to a nuisance claim can rely on the fact that the claimant "came to the nuisance";

  • • The extent, if any, to which it is open to a defendant to a nuisance claim to invoke the actual use of his premises, complained of by the claimant, when assessing the character of the locality;

  • • The extent, if any, to which the grant of planning permission for a particular use can affect the question of whether that use is a nuisance or any other use in the locality can be taken into account when considering the character of the locality;

  • • The approach to be adopted by a court when deciding whether to grant an injunction to restrain a nuisance being committed, or whether to award damages instead, and the relevance of planning permission to that issue.

A summary of the substantive facts
7

In February 1975, planning permission was granted to Terence Waters for the construction of a stadium ("the Stadium") some three miles west of Mildenhall Suffolk, on agricultural land which he owned. The planning permission permitted the Stadium to be used for "speedway racing and associated facilities" for a period of ten years. Speedway racing involves racing speedway motorcycles over several laps of a circuit.

8

The Stadium was constructed during the ensuing year, and thereafter it was used for the permitted purpose by a company called Fen Tigers Ltd, Terence Waters' licensee or lessee of the Stadium. The planning permission was renewed on a permanent basis in 1985, although it was made personal to Mr Waters. Stock car and banger racing started at the Stadium in 1984. Such uses were not permitted under the planning permission, but after ten years of such use, it was contended that they had become immune from planning control enforcement, pursuant to section 191 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as substituted by section 10(1) of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, and Mr Waters applied for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use or Development (a "CLEUD"), pursuant to section 191 in early 1995. In July 1997, a CLEUD was issued by the planning authority confirming that, for a period of ten years, there had been 20 stock car and banger racing events (at specified hours of the day) at the Stadium each year, so that such a use had become lawful in planning terms. In addition, greyhound racing has been going on at the Stadium since 1992.

9

To the rear of the stadium is a motocross track ("the Track"), an undulating track on which this particular type of motorbike racing and practice takes place. The Track was constructed and used pursuant to a personal planning permission for motocross events, which was granted in May 1992 for a year, and renewed from time to time thereafter, always subject to conditions which sought to control the frequency of events, and the amount of sound which was emitted during such events. Eventually, in 2002, a permanent personal planning permission was granted for this use, subject to similar conditions, including one which limited the use of the Track to a limited number of days within prescribed hours, and another which imposed a maximum noise level of LAeq 85 dB over any hour at the boundary of the Track.

10

In August 2005, the Stadium was acquired from Mr Waters by his son, James Walters, and he leased it a month later to Carl Harris, who entered into an arrangement whereby the business at the Stadium was operated by David Coventry. David Coventry and his brother later took on the lease and then acquired the Stadium in April 2008. They have owned and operated it since then. Fen Tigers Ltd itself continued to promote speedway racing at the Stadium until it went into liquidation in July 2010. Terence Waters is also one of the three joint owners of the Track, and, in September 2003, he and his co-owners granted a lease of the track for ten years to Moto-Land UK Ltd ("M-LUK"), who since then have operated the activities on the Track.

11

The trial judge, His Honour Judge Richard Seymour QC (sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court), found that, between 1975 and 2009, the Stadium had been used for speedway racing between 16 and 35 times per year, save that for six years (1990, 1991, 1993 1994, 1997 and 2000) it was not used at all for speedway. As for stock car racing, the judge found that it had occurred at the Stadium between 16 and 27 times a year between 1985 and 2009, save that there was no stock car racing in 1991 or 1992. The judge also found that the Track had been "used for motocross to the full extent permitted" by the relevant planning permission (para 76). As he also mentioned, in 1995, this activity had resulted in the service of noise abatement notices, under section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which were then the subject of inconclusive proceedings.

12

Across open fields, about 560 metres from the Stadium and about 860 metres from the Track, is a bungalow called "Fenland", which was built in the 1950s. It stands in about 0.35 hectares of garden, and is otherwise surrounded by agricultural land. The nearest residential property to Fenland appears to be about half a mile away, and the small village of West Row is about 1.5 miles to the south-east of Fenland (and about one mile to the south east of the Stadium).

13

In January 2006, Katherine Lawrence and Raymond Shields ("the appellants") purchased and moved into Fenland; their vendors were a Mr and Mrs Relton, who had owned and lived in Fenland since 1984. By April 2006, the appellants had become concerned about the noise coming from the motocross events on the Track. They complained about this to the local council in and after April 2006, and they also wrote to Mr Coventry and M-LUK, and to Terence and James Waters, threatening proceedings. The complaints to the council eventually resulted in the service of further noise abatement notices, required the carrying out of works to mitigate the noise emanation ("the attenuation works"). These notices were served during December 2007 on Mr Coventry, his brother, M-LUK and Fen Tigers Ltd, and stated that the activities at the Stadium and on the Track each constituted a statutory nuisance. The attenuation works were carried out,...

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