After a four-day hearing at Cardiff County Court, Recorder Andrew Grubb ruled in Robin Waistell and Stephen Williams’ favour and ordered the Government body to pay £4,320 to each claimant to treat the knotweed. In what is being seen as a key test case, he also awarded them £10,000 each in compensation for the fall in value of their homes.
Waistell’s bungalow, which was previously worth £135,000, is now valued at £69,000.
Crucially, the judge stressed that, if Network Rail failed to get rid of the knotweed, Waistell and Williams could claim for the full drop in the value of their homes.
The landmark judgment secured on 2 February at Cardiff County Court could lead to millions of pounds of property owner claims.
The private nuisance claim imposes a positive duty on landowners to ensure that any knotweed on their property is not preventing neighbouring landowners from being able to sell their property for market value.
Japanese knotweed has been described by the Environment Agency as “indisputably the UK’s most aggressive, destructive and invasive plant”. It can grow to three to four metres high in just 10 weeks and has root which can spread 7m horizontally and compromise the structure of buildings.
Mortgage lenders have shied away from lending on affected properties and the potential damage the plant can cause has restricted demand for and undermined the value of properties by up to 50% where it is an issue.
Bernard Clarke at the Council of Mortgage Lenders said the key issue will always be the security that underpins the loan in any assessment of willingness to lend mortgage finance.
“Therefore, all lenders will want to see how serious the problem is and whether there’s a plan for treatment in place. All lenders will take the ruling into account but they will also have their own interpretations of the significance of the ruling itself,” said Clarke.
Waistell, 70, had bought a property in Maesteg, South Wales, in 2012 shortly after his wife died, but decided to sell up and move to Spain, only to discover over 600 square metres of knotweed on the railway embankment to the back of his bungalow and no lenders willing to lend against the property.
In order to sell his property at market value, Waistell needed Network Rail to instruct a competent contractor to treat the knotweed and ensure that the treatment programme was supported by an insurance-backed guarantee. Network Rail failed to satisfy any mortgage lenders’ requirements.