Gillingham BC v Medway (Chatham Docks) Co Ltd – Case Summary

Gillingham Borough Council v Medway (Chatham DocksCo Ltd

High Court

Citations: [1993] QB 343; [1992] 3 WLR 449; [1992] 3 All ER 923; [1993] Env LR 98; (1992) 63 P & CR 205; [1992] 1 PLR 113.


The defendant was a docking company who acquired a long lease of a disused dockyard. They applied for and received planning permission from the claimant (the local authority) to develop the land into a port. The claimant knew that the work would likely disturb nearby residents. This was because, to remain commercially viable, the project required heavy goods vehicles to be travelling to and from the site at all hours of the day and night. However, it initially thought that the economic benefits of the port justified the grant of planning permission.

When residents began to complain of disturbance from the noise of the vehicles, the claimant brought an action for public nuisance. The claimant argued sought an injunction limiting the defendant to only using heavy goods vehicles between 7am and 7pm.

  1. Was the grant of planning permission relevant to whether there was an actionable nuisance?

The High Court held in favour of the defendant. The grant of planning permission had changed the character of the neighbourhood to a more commercial, port-based one. In light of this the defendant’s use was not unreasonable.

This Case is Authority For…

‘Planning permission is not a licence to commit nuisance and…a planning authority has no jurisdiction to authorise nuisance’. However, planning permission is relevant to whether there is a nuisance if it changes the character of the neighbourhood into one where the defendant’s activities might be normal and reasonable.

Buckley J rejected the argument that there must be an unlawful act for there to be a public nuisance.


Buckley J considered, obiter, whether Article 30 EEC (now Article 34 TFEU) precluded the injunction. The defendant argued that an injunction would be a distinctly applicable measure which would have the effect of restraining imports. As such, they argued that it was a measure with equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction. Buckley J disagreed. He argued that the injunction’s purpose was not regulating trade, but protecting the public from nuisance. As such, Article 30 was not triggered. It is unclear whether this analysis is correct, as no similar issue has been addressed by the UK or EU courts.