As the population increases and our towns and cities expand, the divide between rural, industrial and residential areas becomes less obvious. Consequently, concerns over nuisance noise, dust, light and other annoyances have never been greater.
Where it proves impossible to resolve disputes informally then it has long been possible for those affected to seek redress though the civil courts although such actions have tended to be both lengthy and expensive. Specific powers also exist for Local Authorities to deal with certain issues such as construction noise.
This article focuses on the often overlooked legal right (often called “Statutory Nuisance”) under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (“EPA”) that anyone in England and Wales who is aggrieved by the more common types of nuisance has to obtain a quick and relatively low cost legal order requiring those responsible to end the nuisance and/ or prevent it from reoccurring. Where an order is granted then a failure by those responsible to comply is a criminal offence.
What Is A Statutory Nuisance?
In determining whether something qualifies in law as a nuisance the courts will consider factors such as the location (noise in a quiet residential area as opposed to on an industrial estate is far more likely to be a nuisance for instance), the time of day it occurs, how long the nuisance lasts for, frequency and whether it is being done maliciously and/ or unreasonably. Importantly, you do not have to own or have an interest in the land affected by the nuisance and action can be taken against individuals or businesses that are responsible for causing the nuisance. In addition, matters that are (or are likely to be) prejudicial to health are also covered.
Not every annoyance in life is covered by Statutory Nuisance. It is limited to 11 categories including the physical state of premises, noise (including vibration), dust and smells from business premises and the keeping of animals (including barking dogs). Some activities including aircraft noise and smoke emitted from homes in smoke control zones are specifically exempt from being a statutory nuisance.
If you are affected by a Statutory Nuisance then you should first try and resolve matters amicably with those responsible. Where this is not possible, however, then you should make a complaint to the Environmental Health Officer at your Local Authority. They are responsible for inspecting their areas to detect statutory nuisance and for investigating any complaints they receive. Where a Statutory Nuisance exists then the relevant Local Authority has a legal duty to serve a notice on those responsible requiring it to stop.
Where a Local Authority fails to stop the statutory nuisance (or is itself responsible for causing it) then individuals and organisations (including clubs and businesses) affected can take action themselves. You can do this by first writing to those responsible giving notice of your intention to seek an order unless the nuisance stops. If the problem persists then you should lay a complaint to the local magistrates’ court asking for an order under Section 82 EPA 1990 requiring those responsible for the statutory nuisance to stop and/ or prevent it from reoccurring. A court hearing will then be scheduled at which both you and those responsible will be entitled to make representations although you will be responsible for persuading the magistrates that the statutory nuisance complained of exists. If successful, the Magistrates must make the order. You are entitled to be legally represented by a lawyer at the hearing and, where an order is made, to seek recovery of any reasonable costs (including legal fees) you incur in bringing the case to court.
Benefits Of The Statutory Nuisance Route
Where available, the EPA route undoubtedly offers the quickest, most cost-effective and simplest means of gaining legal redress to stop statutory nuisances. Expert evidence to support your case is often necessary and it is sensible to take early legal advice to enhance your chances of success where the Local Authority will not take action.
How Do I Find Out More?
Christopher Hopkins is a specialist regulatory law barrister at No5 Chambers with many years’ experience of advising on statutory nuisance issues. He is authorised to accept Public Access work direct from the public.
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