Supreme Court on nuisance and planning

By Centre for Law and Environment , on 19 March 2014

The Supreme Court handed down an important decision on the relationship between private nuisance and planning permission on 26 February, citing publications by a member of the UCL Centre for Law and the Environment.

In broad terms, the tort of nuisance addresses the reasonable use and enjoyment of land. The paradigm private nuisance is perhaps a case of noise or smells from industrial or commercial activities, although a nuisance can also take the form of physical harm to property or encroachment on the claimant’s land (for example by tree roots). Many of the activities challenged in private nuisance have been granted planning permission, raising profound practical and constitutional questions about the relationship between the regulatory state and the courts.

Coventry v Lawrence involved a nuisance claim brought by a local resident against the noise generated by the defendant’s motor racing circuit. The Supreme Court concluded that planning permission will generally not assist a defendant seeking to avoid liability in private nuisance, although in some cases detailed planning conditions (for example relating to the specific time at which an activity is acceptable) may provide an indication of what should be considered reasonable in private nuisance. Planning permission will however be relevant to the remedies awarded in private nuisance, specifically whether to award damages or an injunction: the public interest, as assessed through the planning system, may indicate that damages should be awarded.

During the course of his judgment, Lord Carnwath cited Maria Lee’s articles on tort and regulation, from the 2012 and 2013 volumes of the Journal of Planning and Environmental Law.

The full judgment can be found at http://supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/index.shtml;  Richard Macrory’s comment on the case will appear in ENDS report 471.

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