Author
Alicia Convery

Alicia Convery

Associate

Read More
Author
Alicia Convery

Alicia Convery

Associate

Read More

7 October 2021

RED alert - Autumn 2021 – 3 of 7 Insights

Nuisance: Landowners' fight against jet engines fails to take off

  • Briefing

Jones v Ministry of Defence [2021] EWHC 2276 (QB)

Summary

The High Court has recently dismissed a claim brought against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in which the Claimants sought to argue that the noise produced by pilot training drills operating from a neighbouring airfield constituted a private nuisance.

The Facts

This case concerned an airfield in Anglesey used primarily as an RAF training facility. The Claimants, having previously lived in a nearby village, purchased a site roughly a mile away from the airfield in 2003 with the intention of turning it into a holiday park. The site had previously been used as a water reservoir prior to its acquisition by the Claimants.

Despite receiving planning permission for the holiday park, the Claimants struggled to sell the holiday units and decided to convert the existing buildings on the site into commercial lets, including a restaurant and nursery.

The airfield has been used to train RAF pilots since the 1950s and is the last remaining facility used for this purpose in the UK. This training often involves circuit drills which would result in significant noise from the jet engines around the surrounding area, including the Claimants' land.

As a result, the Claimants had raised a number of complaints about the jet engine noise since 2010 which prompted the MoD to alter some of the routes used by the aircraft during training and the height at which the jets flew over the Claimants' site. In particular, the pilots were instructed not to fly directly over the nursery which occupied one of the commercial units on the site.

The relevant law

In order to constitute an actionable "nuisance", the noise in question must interfere with a person's enjoyment or use of their land.

In this case, when determining whether a nuisance existed, the High Court made particular reference to the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v Fen Tigers Limited and the need to assess the character of locality when determining if a particular activity constitutes a nuisance.

The judge also considered the fact that the use of the Claimants' land had changed from being a water reservoir to a holiday park. He noted Lord Neuberger's comments in Lawrence that, in such circumstances, it may be more difficult to establish a nuisance, especially where the noise on the neighbouring land was both reasonable and lawful prior to the change of use.

The decision

Taking into account the above legal principles, the High Court dismissed the Claimants' claim and held that the noise was not an actionable nuisance. In particular, the judge concluded that:

  • the noise from the jet engines was particularly loud and did interfere with the Claimant's current use and enjoyment of the land. However, the longevity of the MoD's activity on the airfield meant that the jet engine noise was considered as "part of the environment" and was therefore an ordinary, reasonable and lawful use of the land
  • the jet engines did not interfere with the previous use of the land as water reservoir; the Claimants had materially changed this use and it would not be fair for them to be able to complain of reasonable pre-existing noise which has been present for many years solely on the basis that it disrupts the new "noise sensitive" use
  • the MoD had taken all reasonable steps to minimise the disruption suffered by the Claimants, including the changes to the drills and instructing pilots not to fly over the nursey
  • the operation of the training base was of significant public interest in protecting national security and therefore should continue.

The Court also dismissed the Claimants' separate argument that the noise constituted a breach of their rights under Articles 1 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Comment

Given the nature of the activity complained of in this instance, it is possible that this case will be confined to its facts to some degree. However, the judgment highlights the importance of giving adequate consideration to any longstanding noise in the surrounding area when making plans to redevelop a piece of land and materially change its use. Following this decision, a subsequent attempt to challenge pre-existing noise may prove difficult.

For prospective claimants, the case also serves as a helpful reminder that it may not be sufficient to prove that the noise in question has interfered with your use and enjoyment of your land. The Court has made clear that it will have regard to other factors which may sway it away from finding that there is an actionable nuisance, including the character of the locality and whether there are any public interest considerations
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