Bristol City Council has used its powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to prosecute a property owner for allowing the spread of invasive plant species Japanese knotweed.
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (the ‘Act’) enables local authorities to take action for anti-social behaviour, which includes conduct that is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person's occupation of residential premises; or which is capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person.
Japanese knotweed is the most invasive non-native species of plant in the UK. It spreads rapidly, is very difficult to treat and can cause considerable damage to buildings and infrastructure. The government estimates that the cost of eradicating it across the UK would be £2.6bn.
In this case, Bristol City Council served MB Estate Limited (‘MB’) with a community protection notice in May 2017, in respect of a house in Horfield. This followed complaints from seven neighbouring properties about Japanese knotweed in the back garden.
A community protection notice is a notice requiring someone to do, or stop doing, specified things or to take reasonable steps to achieve specified results. It can be issued if the local authority is satisfied that someone’s conduct is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent or continuing nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality and the conduct is unreasonable. Under the Act ‘conduct’ includes a ‘failure to act’.
A Home Office information note confirms that, while the Act does not specifically mention Japanese knotweed, the powers under the Act are intended to be flexible and community protection notices under it can be used to require someone to control or prevent the growth of Japanese knotweed - or other plants - that are capable of causing serious problems to communities.
After receiving no response to the notice, the council prosecuted MB for failing to comply with it. At the hearing, which MB did not attend, the Bristol Magistrates’ Court found MB guilty and fined it £18,000 plus costs. It also imposed an order requiring MB to remedy the problem by obtaining a plan to resolve the issue from a specialist company within 28 days.
The council still has the alternative option of entering the land and treating the knotweed itself if MB does not do so; however, this would inevitably take up further cost and time over a period of months, if not years, so is likely to be a last resort given the stretched resources of many local authorities.
It is thought that this is one of the first prosecutions nationally relating to Japanese knotweed using the Act. This case and the several court cases covered in our articles A knotty problem and A knotty problem strikes again seem to indicate that problems relating to Japanese knotweed are on the rise and that those affected by Japanese knotweed are increasingly willing to turn to the courts to resolve those problems. It is therefore useful to know that the Act can be used as an alternative route to costly private nuisance proceedings to tackle Japanese knotweed in neighbouring properties.