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Case Summary: RAF Wittering

This case illustrates how the court deals with a noise nuisance: a serious disturbance that constitutes interference to the ordinary enjoyment of property. It highlights the legal remedies that you might expect to be available in a noise nuisance claim.

Dennis v Ministry of Defence

Case reported in (2003) Env. L.R 34

This case raises the issue of when sufficient public interest can be used in a defence to a claim of noise nuisance.

Facts

D (the claimants) owned and occupied an estate about two miles from RAF Wittering, an operational and training base for Harrier Jump Jets. D claimed that they suffered severe noise disturbance every time the Harrier pilots carried out training circuits: an average of 70 times a day. D alleged that the noise nuisance constituted a very serious interference with their enjoyment of their land and amounted to a violation of their fundamental human rights. D instituted judicial proceedings against the defendants, the Ministry of Defence, seeking a declaration and damages or in the alternative damages amounting to £10,000,000.

Although the MoD accepted that operations at the RAF Wittering caused noise and disturbance to D, they raised a defence that the Harrier training was undertaken for the public benefit and that they had prescriptive right over the land as D had bought their property at a time when RAF Wittering was already established.

Judgement

The court refused to grant the declaration sought but awarded D damages of £950,000, representing loss of capital value, past and future loss of use and past and future loss of amenity. It held that the noise from the Harrier jets amounted to a nuisance and constituted a serious interference with the claimants' enjoyment of their land. The court refused to treat the Harrier training as an ordinary use of land and held that although there was a public benefit to the continued training of Harrier pilots, the claimants should not be required to bear the cost of the public benefit. Appropriate damages were awarded and deemed as just satisfaction under the Section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

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