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People seeking to stop noise from neighbouring or nearby land, whether residential or commercial, will welcome clarification from the court on the legal issues affecting their ability to stop or limit the noise.

A homeowner lived near an aerodrome where helicopters were active. She claimed the noise they made was excessive and unreasonable, and amounted to 'nuisance' in law. She applied for an injunction to stop or limit the use of the aerodrome by helicopters.

The aerodrome said helicopters had been using the runway since the early 1960s and it had therefore acquired a legal right (an 'easement') by prescription for helicopters to make a noise. The court said that the aerodrome could only claim it had acquired a right to cause a noise nuisance by prescription if it could:

  • Show the noise had been continuous for 20 years (starting from the date it first amounted to a nuisance);
  • Establish the precise extent of the right, ie produce evidence supporting its claim to make the noise it said it was entitled to make now, given the levels of noise over the 20-year period.

The court found that the noise from the helicopters was an unreasonable nuisance and an unreasonable interference with the homeowner's use of her home and garden, and granted an injunction limiting helicopter noise to two specified days, at 15 minutes per day.

As to the claim to prescription rights, the court said that there had been protests about the noise over the years which the aerodrome had not dealt with. This meant there had not been continuous use for 20 years and there was, therefore, no easement. Also, the aerodrome had not provided evidence of the extent of the helicopter noise prior to 2014, even though helicopters in previous decades had been very different from modern helicopters. It had not therefore shown how much noise it was able to make now under the alleged right, given the extent of helicopter noise over the 20-year period.

Recommendations

  • Someone claiming an easement by prescription must be able to show when the right began and the precise extent of the right.
  • If anyone has objected to their purported right they must have dealt with, or deal with the objections or the court will find no right by prescription as the right has not been exercised continuously.

Katie Mitchell, Solicitor in Ramsdens Litigation team comments: This case will be a welcome relief and offer some assistance for some owners or occupiers of land. Although it is yet to be seen whether there will be an appeal. Private nuisance claims can arise for all types of reasons, whether this be for noise or something else. This case also raises interesting issues on easements by prescription and the requirements to establish such easements. If you do not have an express right within title deeds this does not necessarily mean you have not acquired such right but you must satisfy certain criteria. If you believe you may have a claim in nuisance or have acquired a right over land you should seek legal advice regarding your options.”

If you need advice on noisy neighbours you can contact Katie by email katie.mitchell@ramsdens.co.uk or call 01484 821 500, 9am-9pm everyday.