Barr v Biffa Waste Services – Case Summary

Barr v Biffa Waste Services Ltd

Court of Appeal

Citations: [2012] EWCA Civ 312; [2013] QB 455; [2012] 3 WLR 795; [2012] 3 All ER 380.

Facts

The claimant lived near the defendant’s waste-tipping site. This site was lawfully operated for many years. The defendant obtained a new waste management permit allowing them to use the site tip a new kind of pre-treated waste. The claimant complained that there had been a strong odour coming from the site since the defendant started tipping this new waste waste.

The claimant sued the defendant in nuisance. This was dismissed at first instance, because the judge thought the existence of the permit made the defendant’s use of the land reasonable. The claimant appealed.

Issue(s)
  1. Was the defendant’s use reasonable?
  2. What is the relevance of local authority permissions in nuisance?
Decision

The Court of Appeal held for the claimant. The defendant’s use was not reasonable. The waste management permit was not relevant on these facts because it did not change the nature of the locality.

This Case is Authority For…

Something is a nuisance if it goes beyond what a normal person would consider reasonable to put up with. This is no absolute standard, but can vary according to many factors, such as:

  • The severity of the interference (by reference to the standards of average people);
  • The character of the neighbourhood; and
  • The duration of the interference.

An activity which breaches local authority permissions is likely to be unreasonable. However, it does not follow that local authority permission makes an activity reasonable. Official permissions are only relevant if they change the character of the neighbourhood.

Other

The Court noted that statutory authority could be a defence to nuisance, but only if the statute authorised that precise nuisance. If the statute can be complied with in many ways, some nuisance-causing and some not, there is no defence of statutory authority.

Carnwath LJ stated, obiter, that the public utility of the activity is not a defence.

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