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Noise Nuisance: Whether a claim for damages relating to historic noise caused by military aircraft can succeed (Jones v Ministry of Defence – 2021)

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Where claimants owned land in an area which was continually affected by the noise of military aircraft from a nearby RAF base, were they entitled to a declaration and/or damages in respect of an actionable nuisance?

The background

In Jones v Ministry of Defence [2021], the claimants owned land on Anglesey near the RAF’s Valley base. The RAF uses Mona Airfield on Anglesey for its operations, including as a relief landing zone and runway for trainee pilots using fast jets and turbo prop aircraft. The claimants operated a holiday and leisure park on their land but, the venture having not succeeded, had since failed to sell the land.

They claimed that the noise from the airfield was so loud that it constituted an actionable nuisance, stating that they were unable to enjoy the land. Alternatively, they claimed infringement of their rights under Articles 8 and 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Jones’ also claimed that the RAF had targeted their site specifically following complaints the couple had made.

The decision

The High Court dismissed the Jones’ claims, notably on the grounds that aircraft had been used in the vicinity of the Jones’ property for some time and that the noise created was justified given the use of the airfield for national security purposes.

The court considered whether, during the claimants’ period of ownership, there had been an increase in the number of flights operating from the airfield, concluding that there had not. The court also found no variation in flight paths since 2007, 4 years after the Jones’ bought their land. Number of flights had reduced over that period, although noise had increased as a result of new aircraft used by the RAF.

The airfield had been in use since 1951, and noise from the aircraft had been part of the environment on Anglesey for many years. Noise, deemed ‘historic noise’, formed a feature of the area which had been in existence for generations, and the RAF had taken steps to minimise noise nuisance caused to the Jones’. Further, the Jones’ had changed the use of the land to a holiday park, which in its nature was sensitive to noise; the claim for nuisance was not justified by this change of use.

With regards to the Human Rights Act 1998 claim, the High Court found that this failed as, because the nuisance claim had failed, there had been no unlawful act, and any interference caused to the Jones’ rights under the Act would be justified as a result of the national security purpose. When the Jones’ purchased the land, they purchased in knowledge of the noise which already existed. They had not therefore been deprived of any rights during their period of ownership.

Advice and action for landlords

The Jones’ argued that the RAF’s use of the airfield for fast jets created a noise nuisance which had resulted in the failure of their holiday park business. The High Court’s decision was largely based on the notion of historic noise, which had formed part of the environment for many years.

When considering its judgment, the court found that it was unrealistic to exclude this factor, finding that pre-existing noise present on acquisition of a property could be considered part of the local environment when assessing a claim for actionable noise nuisance.

The High Court dismissed the claims on the grounds that aircraft had been used in the vicinity of the property for many years, and that the noise created was justified given the use of the airfield for national security purposes.

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