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Case study: Mildenhall Fen Tigers

This recent private nuisance case clarifies how the court should deal with a noise nuisance claim about an activity that has been going on before the claimant moves to the area. A private nuisance is a serious disturbance that constitutes interference to the ordinary enjoyment of property. Note that, as well as the court proceedings for private nuisance, the Council took action against the Stadium owners for a statutory nuisance.

Coventry v Lawrence

Facts

Katherine Lawrence and Raymond Shields (the appellants) bought a house in January 2006 about 560m from Mildenhall Stadium, home to the Fen Tigers speedway team. The house was also 860m from a motorcross track. Soon after moving in, they became concerned about the noise coming from speedway and stock car racing in the Stadium and from motorcross events on the track. They complained to the Council. The Council served abatement notices on the owners and operators. The abatement notices stated that the activities constituted a statutory nuisance and required “attenuation works” to be carried out to reduce the noise pollution.

The appellants also brought proceedings in the High Court against the operators and owners, David Coventry and others. They claimed that the use of the stadium and track, in particular the resulting noise, amounted to a private nuisance. The High Court judge agreed and granted an injunction restricting noise levels as well as a sum of money to compensate the appellants for past disturbance.

The parties appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Amongst other things, the stadium and track owners raised as a defence the fact that the neighbours had “come to the nuisance” because they bought the house knowing it was near the stadium. Speedway, stock car racing and motorcross events had already been going on for many years. They also relied on the fact that they had been granted planning permission to run the stadium.

Judgment of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court upheld the High Court judge’s injunction to restrain noise levels. However, it also made clear that the stadium owners could apply to the High Court judge to lift the injunction and award damages instead.

The court ruled that the owner of the stadium could not raise as a defence the fact that the neighbours had “come to the nuisance”. It noted that, in order to decide whether noise amounts to a nuisance, the court must decide whether a normal person would find the noise reasonable to have to put up with, given the character or established pattern of uses of the area. The stadium owner’s activities would only be relevant when considering the character of the area in so far as they were lawful and did not constitute a nuisance. The fact that there was a planning permission for the activity complained of would not normally help a defendant, unless the terms of the permission were relevant to the nuisance case, for example if they set noise level limits.

The case is reported at [2014] UKSC 13.

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