Articles | Sports clubs beware, are you causing a nuisance?

A recent decision of the Court of Appeal serves as a useful reminder that a planning permission may not be enough if you wish to use land in a way which affects neighbouring owners and that neighbouring owners may have rights under the law of nuisance.

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Marcus Francis

Marcus Francis

In the case (Watson v Croft Promo-Sport) the court granted an injunction to restrict the use of a motor racing circuit following complaints by the neighbours, even though the racing track had planning permission and even though the court has jurisdiction to award damages instead of an injunction.

There were two planning permissions for the use of the land as a motor racing circuit, dating back to 1963.  The neighbouring houses were only built in 1989 and in 1998 the promoter of the racing circuit (Croft) entered into a planning agreement with the local council.  This planning agreement set out a detailed set of monitored restrictions on the use of the circuit and was held by a planning inspector at the time to amount to a suitable balance between the conflicting interests of Croft and the neighbours.

The Court of Appeal held that Croft had caused a nuisance and that the use of the land was not reasonable.  The court also held that the planning permissions had not introduced an element of noise which qualified the essentially rural character of the locality.

The High Court had previously decided that the use of the land as a race track did amount to a nuisance, but that the neighbours would be sufficiently compensated by payment of damages.  However, the Court of Appeal said that damages should only be awarded instead of an injunction in very exceptional circumstances.  According to the court, the argument that the “wrongdoer” was in some sense a public benefactor was not a sufficient reason to award damages instead of an injunction and furthermore the circumstances of this case were not exceptional enough to justify the award of damages instead of the injunction.

Although this particular case was about a motor racing circuit, similar considerations might apply to any sports club wishing to groundshare with another club, thereby intensifying the use of the land, or indeed if a sports club wished to host, say, a rock concert at its ground.