Another noise case against a race track was in court last month. This time it was against the operators of Mildenhall Stadium, a speedway, banger racing and motocross stadium in Suffolk and, this time, heard in the Supreme Court (having already been through the High Court and Appeal Court).
It’s the ruling’s principles – rather than the specifics of the case – that are most noteworthy here. Couple moves into house, apparently unaware it’s within half a mile of a racetrack where they’ve held meetings, with planning permission, since 1975, and don’t like it.
You and I would check first, I suspect, but there you go; the house is also two miles from RAF Mildenhall. Maybe they didn’t know that, either.
Anyhoo, they first complain a few months in, before starting legal proceedings in 2008. At first they win, then they lose on appeal. On 26 February they win again in the Supreme Court.
Here’s where the principles come in. First, a venue might argue it has a prescriptive right to make noise because it has done for so long. And “it is possible to obtain… a right to commit what would otherwise be a nuisance by noise”, reads the judgement. However, “what has to be established is that the relevant activity has created a nuisance for over 20 years without interruption”. In other words, if you’re a bad neighbour for long enough, you could argue you’re entitled to be forever. The stadium didn’t manage it.
The character of the locality comes into it, too – this is a rural area – as does planning permission, with which the stadium complies. But “it is wrong in principle that, through grant of planning permission, a planning authority should be able to deprive a property owner of a right to object to what would otherwise be a nuisance, without providing her with compensation”.
But here’s the bit that will boil the blood of those who support the stadium and think that if an activity will bother you, you shouldn’t move next door. That the speedway was already there, and that the claimants “came to the nuisance”, is irrelevant.
“It is not a defence to a claim in nuisance to show that the claimant acquired or moved into a property after the nuisance had started,” reads the ruling. If the house was new, or modified so that the noise became more noticeable, or if its land had changed use, those factors could matter, but here, they didn’t; the house was already there, even if those who lived in it weren’t.
There are sound reasons for all these principles, of course, but the short of it is that you can move somewhere, uncaring about what might be nearby, because you can set about having it shut down when you get there. That makes me cross.