New leading case on private nuisance

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Coventry v Lawrence [2014] BLR Vol 1 page 271 Supreme Court

Facts

Mr Coventry and various associates operated a speedway and car racing stadium, half a mile from a bungalow occupied by Mr Lawrence.  Lawrence complained that the noise generated by the speedway activities was a ‘private nuisance’ interfering with his enjoyment of his land.  Mr Coventry won in the Court of Appeal on the basis that stock car and speedway racing was not a private nuisance on the facts, and so the matter went to the Supreme Court.

Held

  1. The mere fact that an activity, which is said to give rise to a nuisance, has the benefit of planning permission is normally of no assistance to a defendant. Especially in a claim brought by a neighbour who contends that the activity causes a nuisance to his land in the form of noise or other loss of amenity.
  2. Although Mr Lawrence had only recently moved into the bungalow, the bungalow had been in existence since before the racing activities started.
  3. The standard remedy for private nuisance is an injunction to restrain the defendant from committing such nuisance in future.  The court has power to award damages instead but in that case the legal burden of proof is on the defendant to persuade the court that damages would be an adequate remedy.

Comment

a)             Mr Coventry argued that he and his colleagues had carried on these activities for 20 years and therefore he’d acquired a right “by prescription”.  The court found that he had proved that he had carried on these activities for 20 years but he had not proved that the activities had been carried on in such a way as to constitute a nuisance, and that was what he had to show.

b)            Many people assume that a grant of planning permission is literally a permission to do what the local planning authority has agreed to.  The court stressed yet again that a grant of planning permission cannot take away a landowner’s right to the peaceful use and enjoyment of his land.

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