Coventry and others organise motor sports and events at the stadium and track location on former farmland just outside the village of West Row in Suffolk. A couple who bought a house in West Row objected to the noise produced by the motor sports stadium and sued Coventry and others for private nuisance. In the first instance, the High Court awarded the couple damages of just over £20,000 for the nuisance and an injunction preventing the generation of noise at certain times and to certain limits.
Coventry and others appealed as they contended that they had planning permissions to carry out the use of motor sports on this location and that had changed the locality of it and this change in locality should have been taken into account by the judge when assessing the noise and if it constituted a nuisance. If the court then still considered that they had caused a nuisance they claimed a right by prescription to cause the noise and therefore the nuisance.
The appeal was upheld by the Court of Appeal and, although they said that planning permission could not authorise the commission of a nuisance (Lord Justice Jackson), they held that the grant of planning permission may change the character of a locality and it was a question of fact in every case where the grant and implementation of the planning permission would have that effect. The question of whether or not there was a private nuisance must then be decided against the background of the changed character of the locality and therefore what might once have been considered an offence may no longer be so.
Lewison JL also made an interesting comment that the claimed easement of noise could be established and will be a positive easement consisting of the right to transmit sound waves over the servient tenement. Such an easement could in principle be acquired by prescription but the main problem in such a case would be to establish what level of noise had been created over the whole period of prescription so as to entitle the dominant owner to continue to make noise at the same level.
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