It’s a hard knot life
Japanese Knotweed has received some legislative attention recently, perhaps due to recent media interest in how it is affecting the value of properties. The new Anti-Social, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 seeks to address the issue where homeowners do not tend to the issue of knotweed on their property. According to the legislation homeowners might fall foul of the Act where they do not act reasonably to control or prevent the growth of knotweed.
Under the Act a Community Protection Notice can be issued by a local authority or the police, where the homeowner actions are a) ‘having a detrimental effect, of a continuing and persistent nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality’ and/or b) the homeowner acts ‘unreasonably’. Moreover, a failure to act also falls under conduct that is classed as ‘unreasonable’. The notice, therefore, now requires an individual to control or eradicate the knotweed on their property and breaching the notice without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence. The notice must state: (1) what the action is that is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality; (2) a requirement that such actions will cease; and (3) that the homeowner will treat this INNS (Invasive Non-Native Species) within a specific time and prevent any future occurrence. The notice should also state that sanctions include a fixed penalty of £100 and on summary conviction a fine of £2,500 for individuals and £20,000 for organisations.
An individual or a body can activate a "community trigger" to request that the local authority deal with a persistent or previously ignored anti-social behaviour problem when their case meets a locally defined threshold. This could apply to knotweed or any other INNS. The local authority has a duty to undertake a case review and consider what action they can take to resolve the problem when someone activates the trigger. The local authority can still carry out a case review where the threshold has not been met, based on factors such as the persistence of the problem, the harm (or potential harm) caused, or the adequacy of response from agencies.
The question remains as to whether this legislation is actually necessary, with one blogger describing it as ‘using a sledge hammer to crack a nut’. It is hard to understand what the Act can achieve that the law of private nuisance cannot. The power to bring action against one disrupting your reasonable enjoyment of your land has always rested with the individual, it is difficult to see what basis there is for this new legislation. In addition the new power does not address any damage that a private individual may have suffered. If an individual wished to claim for damage that he had suffered personally then he would have use the common law of nuisance and or negligence to get redress.
So where does this new legislation leave us? With the threat of an ASBO for knotweed on top of potential private enforcement it is only likely to increase the stigma attached to properties affected by knotweed and cause even greater diminution of value as potential buyers seek to avoid affected properties at all costs.
Rodger Burnett, Japanese Knotweed Claims