The Supreme Court has recently delivered judgment in a case concerning the law relating to private nuisance. Brady Solicitors’ property dispute specialists review the decision and its impact on residential developments in the vicinity of noisy neighbours.

The case of Coventry (t/a RDC Promotions) v Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13 concerned the noise from speedway and stock car racing at a stadium and track in Suffolk and the affect of this noise on a nearby residential property.

The owners of the property, which was built in the 1950s and sited just 86 metres from a section of the racetrack, had bought it in 2006. In 2008 they applied to the High Court for an injunction to restrain the activities at the track on the grounds of the ‘intolerable noise’ being created.

The claimants succeeded in the original High Court case, lost at the Court of Appeal and then took their case to the Supreme Court. Although the stadium had been used as a race track since the 1980s and had all the necessary planning permissions, including a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use or Development granted in 1997, the Supreme Court found in the homeowners’ favour and reinstated the original High Court decision, awarding financial damages in lieu of an injunction.

In his judgment, Lord Neuberger made a number of key observations, including:

  • It is not a defence to say that a claimant has ‘come to the nuisance’. So, even though the ‘nuisance’ of the noise existed before the claimants bought the property, the defendant could not use this as a defence.
  •  Planning permission to carry out the activity that causes the nuisance is normally of no assistance to the defendant.
  •  The Court should display greater flexibility in deciding whether to grant an injunction constraining the activity to some degree, or award financial compensation instead.

Irrespective of whether or not your block is a recent addition to the neighbourhood, the above re-balancing act does much to clarify and protect the private rights bestowed upon residential properties.

We expect that Coventry v Lawrence will be cited by leaseholders and freeholders to govern unreasonable use of neighbouring land, whether that is the operating hours of a nearby factory, or indeed the use of land for speedway and stock car racing.

A note of caution however. Lord Neuberger balanced the nuisance caused to the property owners against the impact on the speedway business of an injunction, and awarded financial damages rather than a restriction on the racetrack’s activities. We expect to see future cases being resolved by way of financial compensation to residents rather than the traditional injunctive remedy.

Find out more

For help or advice with any issues relating to noise or nuisance actions please contact Brady Solicitors by email or on 0115 985 3450