A Grantham law firm has described a successful case under its belt as a ‘David and Goliath battle’.
The landmark court ruling on Japanese knotweed has opened the floodgates for compensation claims totalling tens of millions of pounds, following the case fought by JMP Solicitors against Network Rail.
During a four-day hearing in Cardiff, the high court heard how the foundations of two neighbours’ homes had become infested with the roots. The plant grew so high that it blocked sunlight coming into the rear bedroom windows of their homes in the summer months.
Neither homeowner could sell up because banks and building societies will not give mortgages on property with knotweed. When the value of their bungalows almost halved overnight they sued Network Rail for damages.
The judgement is expected to pave the way for thousands of British homeowners to get compensation from Network Rail, local authorities and other major landowners.
Lawyer Samantha Towle, who is based at the firm’s Grantham office, was delighted with the judgement. She said: “This is a fantastic result that will have wide reaching implications for other homeowners in a similar position of which there are many around the country.
“This case is important because the court has ruled that Japanese knotweed infestation has caused a loss of quiet enjoyment of my client’s property.
“Every homeowner should be able to sell their home at its proper value but mortgage companies do not like to lend on properties that have knotweed within seven meters of a property boundary. So, through no fault of his own, our client found the value of his house significantly affected by knotweed growing close to the boundary.”
The trial heard Network Rail workers are dispatched to treat knotweed but the work is considered low priority compared to the safety work of repairing barriers and fences.
After the hearing, Recorder Andrew Grubb found the neighbours had suffered private nuisance at the hands of Network Rail. He ordered the Government body to pay £4,320 to each claimant to treat the knotweed and for an insurance backed guarantee that it will not return. In what is being seen as a test case, Recorder Grubb also awarded £10,000 for the drop in value of their homes after treatment. Recorder Grubb stressed that if Network Rail fails to get rid of the weed they can claim for the full drop in value of their homes.
Network Rail immediately applied to appeal on grounds of the ‘floodgates’ effect – expecting that the ruling gives the green light to tens of thousands of people whose homes have knotweed spread from railway embankments to apply for compensation.
Its barrister Andy Creer said: “Network Rail has thousands of miles of track across the country and any number of people whose land adjoins those tracks. This will have a significant impact on Network Rail fulfilling its primary duty to ensure the safe operating of the rail network.”
Network Rail may go to the High Court to get the decision overturned.
JMP Solicitors is representing several clients in actions against public bodies and new home builders who have not addressed the Japanese knotweed problem.