Don’t tie yourself in knots: – Japanese Knotweed and landowners obligations30 May 2017
A recent County Court case involving Network Rail, Williams v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd (2017), provides an useful reminder to Landowners of the perils facing those whose who ignore or do not control the spread of Japanese knotweed on their land. Our Head of Litigation, Andrew Weinberg, offers his insight:
Japanese Knotweed is a particularly invasive plant species that was introduced to the UK in the 19th century. It has thrived outside of its habitat and spread throughout the British Isles. The plant’s roots can force their way through concrete and walls. It be very expensive to treat the weed and very difficult to entirely eradicate. It was reported that the cost to the London Olympics to remove Japanese knotweed from a ten-acre site was more than £70 million.
The mere presence of Knotweed on land or close to buildings can cause lenders to have serious concerns about providing security, as it can have a significant impact on the market value of the land.
Network rail case
The claim involved two neighbouring bungalows in Maesteg, South Wales. Network Rail owned the land at the rear of their buildings. It was found that a large growth of Japanese Knotweed had been present on Network Rail’s land for at least 50 years.
Network Rail had been made aware of this infestation in 2008 and had been controlling the plant so far as necessary to maintain visibility on the train line, but had not taken steps to control the spread of the plant towards the claimants’ land.
The owners of the bungalows claimed that the presence of the knotweed near their boundary wall was an interference with their enjoyment of their properties and affected their ability to sell their properties at market value.
The Court found in favour of the bungalow owners. The Court considered that Network Rail had failed to carry out its obligations as a reasonable landowner and failed to tackle the infestation or control the spread of the plant. This in turn interfered with the neighbouring properties’ quiet enjoyment of their land.
The Court held that the presence of the Japanese knotweed devalued the market value of the bungalows and found that even if treatment took place immediately, their sale value would still be lower than market value, notwithstanding the fact that there was no physical damage to any of the buildings. The Court awarded damages of £15,000 to cover the cost of eliminating the plant infestation and the diminution in the sale value of the properties.
This was seen as a test case for Network Rail and could be appealed.
Points to note for Landowners
• Landowners should arrange periodic inspections on their land to identify any infestation of Japanese knotweed and other invasive plant species;
• If landowners become aware of any infestation, especially if it is in the vicinity of any neighbouring buildings, they should seek immediate advice from experts;
• Landowners who ignore the issue could face statutory enforcement action from their Local Authority, as well as damages claims from their neighbours;
• Landowners who identify Japanese Knotweed on neighbouring property should consult their advisors about a potential nuisance claim and inform the Local Authority of the infestation.
If you have any queries or would like to discuss any of the issues brought up in this article, please call our Head of Litigation, Andrew Weinberg, on 0161 838 7811.