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25 July 2018

Knot in my back yard

Japanese knotweed, the invasive plant which is notoriously difficult to remove, has been the subject of a recent Court of Appeal decision.

A case had previously been heard in the Cardiff County Court in February 2017 when the owners of two semi-detached bungalows brought a claim against Network Rail. Japanese knotweed growing on land owned by Network Road immediately behind the bungalows had caused damage. The County Court found in favour of the Claimants and awarded them damages.

Network Rail was granted permission to appeal the decision. The appeal centred on whether the Court had been right to find that the Claimants had a valid claim in nuisance simply because the presence of the knotweed on the adjoining had reduced the market value of their bungalows (because a lender would be cautious about lending money against the property).

The Court of Appeal confirmed that purpose of being able to bring a claim in private nuisance is to protect a land owner’s right to use and enjoy their land, not to protect its investment value. However it upheld the earlier decision finding the knotweed had imposed a burden on the bungalow owners because its presence had made it more difficult for them to develop the land and because of the difficulty and expense involved in its removal.

In the case in question it was also relevant that Network Rail (1) had known that knotweed as on the land, (2) had known (or ought to have known) of the risk of damage to adjoining properties and (3) had failed to prevent the interference with the Claimants’ enjoyment of their properties.

Anyone aware of the presence of Japanese knotweed on their land should therefore not only be concerned with the potential for damage to be caused to their own property but should also be mindful of the potential to be liable to pay damages to owners of adjoining land. It is recommended that land owners take immediate steps to deal with the removal of the knotweed by involving specialist contractors.

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