Japanese Knotweed was introduced to the UK in the 1820’s for its ornamental qualities and became a popular plant in Victorian gardens. Recently, certain media sources have also suggested that this has a culinary value as a tasty alternative to rhubarb in crumbles! However, it is legally considered “controlled” waste which can only be disposed of at a licensed site. As mentioned in court, “it can block drains, disrupt drain runs, disrupt brick paving, undermine garden walls and overwhelm poorly built outbuildings and conservatories”.
In a Landmark Court of Appeal ruling it has now been established that landowners will be able to claim damages if the “pernicious” plant has encroached on their property. The ruling means that homeowners could now successfully sue neighbours if the plant invades their property.
Announcing the decision this week, the Master of the Rolls said “Japanese Knotweed, and its roots and rhizomes, does not merely carry the risk of future physical damage to buildings, structures and installations on the land. Its presence imposes an immediate burden on landowners who face an increased difficulty in their ability to develop, and in the cost of developing their land, should they wish to do so, because of the difficulties and expense of eradicating Japanese Knotweed from affected land. In this way, Japanese Knotweed can fairly be described as a natural hazard which affects landowner’s ability fully to use and enjoy their property and, in doing so, interferes with the lands amenity value”.
However, the Judge, said that homeowners would not be entitled to damages because the Knotweed had reduced the value of their property. The compensation was for the inability to enjoy the property only.
The case will undoubtedly have major ramifications, not only for potential property developers, but also for those persons and companies holding large blocks of land. The defendants in the case, Network Rail after paying the claimants compensation, were also ordered to pay the lion’s share of the heavy legal costs of the case. The ruling will open a floodgate of claims from property owners and will cost taxpayers substantial sums as entities such as Network Rail deals with Knotweed that has spread from their land to neighbouring private property.
Undoubtedly, the ruling will have a huge impact on landowners who will have to start to take their responsibilities over invasive plants far more seriously.