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Japanese knotweed gets Network Rail in a tangle

Japanese knotweed can be very problematic. It can cause damage to buildings and land by the spreading of its roots, which can affect the value, marketability and the insurability of a property. Further problems for homeowners and occupiers can arise if the knotweed is not controlled and is allowed to spread on to neighbouring land. This can lead to a homeowner or occupier incurring liability in nuisance to compensate the owner of the neighbouring land for the loss of enjoyment of the land, property damage and the cost of removal.

The law in relation to liability for Japanese knotweed is evolving, following the decision in  the combined cases of Waistell v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd and Williams v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd (2017). Although this judgment is a first instance decision, it is thought to be the first decided case on liability for property damage caused by Japanese knotweed.

The claimants’ properties abutted a railway embankment and access path owned by Network Rail, where Japanese knotweed had been present for many years. The knotweed had spread from the embankment to underneath the claimants’ homes. The claimants alleged in nuisance that Network Rail were liable to compensate them for the encroachment of the knotweed onto their land and for the presence of the knotweed, which was an interference with their quiet enjoyment and the amenity value of their property.

The claimants were successful, despite the court finding that no physical damage had been caused to their properties. In brief, the court held that the presence of the knotweed did indeed interfere with the quiet enjoyment and amenity value of the claimants’ homes, as they were unable to sell their properties for their full market value. The court found that Network Rail had failed to carry out its obligation as a reasonable landowner to eliminate the problem and to prevent interference with the quiet enjoyment of the claimants’ land. The claimants were awarded damages for the  cost of treatment programmes and insurance-backed guarantees, the diminution in value of their properties once treatment had taken place and damages for loss of amenity and interference with quiet enjoyment of their property.

This decision raises the possibility of similar claims being made more frequently in the future. The Court of Appeal is due to hear the appeal of this decision by Network Rail later this year, which will be eagerly awaited by potential claimants and lawyers.

Katie is a solicitor in our Legal 500-rated litigation & dispute resolution department. She works with the team across a wide range of private and commercial work, including disputes arising from commercial contracts, landlord and tenant and property. Katie also deals with civil litigation and contentious probate and trust cases.

Katie Duthie
Katie Duthie
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