You’re Grounded!

30 March, 2016
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

Helicopter with sunsetAn aerodrome in Buckinghamshire has been ordered by the High Court this month to restrict helicopter training exercises because they had been causing a nuisance to its neighbours.


In Peires v Bickerton’s Aerodromes Ltd [2016] EWHC 560 (Ch) (judgment 17 March 2016) the owner of a neighbouring property sought an injunction to restrict the use of the aerodrome for training exercises, which included taking off and landing helicopters close to the border of her property.


The neighbour had complained about the noise ever since she purchased the property. She argued that the nature and frequency of the noise was unreasonable and excessive and it interfered with her enjoyment of her land.


However, the aerodrome had been in use long before she purchased the property.  It had been an airfield since the First World War and helicopters had been landing there since the 1960s.  Accordingly, the aerodrome owners argued that they had acquired a right to carry on the training exercises through long use, as they had done so for over 20 years.  


They also claimed that the disturbance was minimal because the exercises only took place for around 20 minutes a week, but the neighbour produced evidence to say they were much more extensive and the court found her evidence to be more convincing.


The court decided that the activity was sufficiently frequent and intolerable enough to constitute an actionable nuisance, and that although the owners of the aerodrome could have taken steps to minimise the impact of the noise they had refused to do so, without justification and despite complaints being raised since the 1970s.


In his judgment, Mr Justice Peter Smith confirmed that a right to make noise nuisance could in some circumstances be established by long use, but the 20 year period for establishing this could only begin when the noise amounted to nuisance.


In this case, the noise had not always been as loud as it was and it was difficult to establish what level of noise would be permitted by the easement even if the right to exercise it could be established by long use.


The aerodrome owners failed to convince the court that they had established a right to carry on the noise nuisance through long use.  The court held that the activities were an unreasonable interference with the use of the neighbouring property.   It decided that the appropriate remedy was an injunction to limit the activity to a reasonable level and ordered that the helicopter training exercises could only be carried out for two scheduled periods of 15 minutes a week in a clearly marked area.