Noisy jets are not a nuisance…
If you have been up Snowdon, you may well have heard and seen some of the jets referred to in the case of Jones and Jones v Ministry of Defence1. The Claimants owned land about a mile away from an RAF Mona Royal Air Force station on Anglesey (RAF Mona). Opened as an airship base in 1915, recently RAF Mona has been used as a relief landing ground and runway used by trainee pilots undertaking drills in fast jets and turboprop aircraft.
Some buildings on the Claimants’ land were let to commercial tenants, including a children’s nursery. The Claimants intended to develop the land into a holiday and leisure park; these plans were not realised and commercial lettings dwindled.
The Claimants claimed that the noise from operations in and around RAF Mona constituted an actionable nuisance and interfered with their private and family life and with the enjoyment of their possessions under Article 8 and Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court considered whether the RAF’s activities constituted a nuisance, interfering with the Claimants’ reasonable enjoyment of their land.
No - despite the roaring aircraft noise disrupting conversations and frightening small children on weekdays between 8am and 2am (albeit intermittently and not regularly), the judge found that there was no nuisance. The locality and prior use of the land were important factors in this case. Surrounded by agricultural land, the Claimants’ land had been previously used by Welsh Water to supply water from a reservoir to the residents of Anglesey. For the past 70 years, pilots had learned to fly jets at RAF Mona and the nearby RAF Valley. It was found that the noise was no greater than before the Claimants purchased the land and a witness described the noise as part of everyday life. The RAF had taken all reasonable measures to minimise the noise at the Claimants’ land.
What about an infringement of human rights? Article 8 provides as follows:
“Right to respect for private and family life
- Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
- There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The Article 8 claim was not successful. The aircraft noise did disturb the Claimants’ lives and home, but the disturbance was trumped by the necessary interests of national security.
Article 1 of the First Protocol provides as follows:
“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”
The judgement explores the two threads in Article 1 – peaceful enjoyment and possessions.
Judge Sephton QC held that:
- “peaceful” means “without interference”; it does not mean “without noise”.
- “possessions” was the Claimant’s land, which was subject to noise from overflying aircraft. Regarding possession, Judge Sephton QC held: “the enjoyment which they were entitled to expect has not been interfered with; the defendant has not deprived them of anything”. The land itself was not affected by the noise, rather the noise dashed the Claimants’ hopes of turning the land into a profitable venture, therefore there was no breach of Article 1.
Interestingly, in a case cited by this judgment (Coventry v Lawrence2) involving a bungalow purchased near to a stadium where speedway and stock car racing took place, Lord Neuberger stated:
“… it is no defence for a defendant who is sued in nuisance to contend that the claimant came to the nuisance, although it may well be a defence, at least in some circumstances, for a defendant to contend that, as it is only because the claimant has changed the use of, or built on, her land that the defendant's pre-existing activity is claimed to have become a nuisance…”
Even if “coming to a nuisance” is not an absolute defence to defendants in nuisance claims, the cases above demonstrate the utmost importance of undertaking due diligence before purchase.
An interesting example of how the courts approach nuisance involving interference with a claimant’s property rights can be found in Jones v Ruth3. In this case, the Claimants had to endure four years of building works to the property adjoining their home, in which time the Defendants caused noise and dust pollution and workmen were able to see into the Claimant’s bathroom and garden while on the scaffolding. The court awarded the Claimants £75,000 in respect of the nuisance aspect of their claim, stating that “Continuous building work through a relatively short period can be tolerated as a reasonable necessity or alternatively avoided. Works which go on over a four year period on a sporadic or ad hoc basis without notice and at any time can become unbearable”.
This article was written by Joanne Pritlove (Associate, Construction Unit). If you have any further queries relating to this article, please get in touch with Joanne e:email@example.com or T: 01454 807946)
24 September 2021
1.  EWHC 2276 (QB)
2.  UKSC 13
3.  EWHC 1538 (TCC)