Addleshaw Goddard

UK 200 2013 position: 23

Judgment could affect operators in waste management, utilities and manufacturing

In March 2012, the Court of Appeal gave judgment in the case of Barr and others v Biffa Waste Services Ltd [2012], providing a decision that could have serious implications for operators in the waste management, utilities and manufacturing sectors whose businesses operate under environmental permits.

In this case, Biffa operated a landfill site close to a residential area for which it was issued a waste management permit that, amongst other stipulations, required the limiting and monitoring of odours. After commencing operations, Biffa and the Environment Agency began to receive complaints from local residents about odours coming from the site. The residents eventually formed an action group and issued proceedings against Biffa for common law private nuisance alleging that the odours had unduly interfered with the use and enjoyment of their land, affecting their quality of life.

Biffa argued that it had conducted operations in accordance with the terms of its waste management permit and without negligence and therefore it could not be liable in nuisance. The argument that a site had been operated in accordance with the relevant statutory and other regulations — known as statutory authority — has traditionally provided operators with a defence to private nuisance claims. In short, compliance with the terms of a permit to operate could provide a defence. In April 2011, the High Court agreed with Biffa and ruled that no claim in nuisance could succeed against an operator which had complied with the terms of its permit and had not been negligent…

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