I recently attended a conference at which Richard Snape, a nationally renowned property expert and Consultant and Professional Support Lawyer with Davitt Jones Bould Solicitors, was one of the speakers. Part of his lecture, the substance of which I share here, concerned the issues around Japanese Knotweed. The plant was imported into the UK via Swansea back in the 18th Century. Its use was to reduce landslide but it spread across the counties and over the past 100 years its growth has been quite significant.
Japanese knotweed is a notifiable substance and it is illegal to cause it to be propagated in the wild. Local authorities can take action against property owners, both under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by the issue of remediation notices and charges for its removal, and under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act 2014. That piece of legislation gives the local authority power to serve Community Protection Notices on property owners who fail to control their Knotweed.
The presence or otherwise of Japanese knotweed has, therefore become a routine enquiry raised by solicitors during property transactions, not least because it constitutes a contamination substance and infestation of land.
Richard Snape highlighted the problems around knotweed when it comes to a sale. The standard enquiry that is asked as to whether the property is affected by Japanese Knotweed allows the response of ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Don’t Know’. Richard warned: “‘No’ would be a statement of fact and potentially actionable. ‘Don’t Know’ may be a representation that attempts have been made to investigate. Moreover, the property may be affected by Japanese Knotweed if it is within the neighbourhood. It is suggested that response should be made clear that there has been no attempt to find it.”
There has been some recent litigation involving Japanes knotweed, where claimants have succeeded in recovering damages. In Williams & Waistell v Rail Infrastructure Limited, landowners were awarded damages of £10,000 for lost development potential and possible future damage to property plus £5,000 for remedial work. In Ryb v Conway Consultants damages of £50,000 were awarded against a surveyor who failed to identify the presence of Japanese knotweed in a garden – a lesson to my own profession!
Still, it’s not all bad news. Although Japanese Knotweed is not one of your ‘5 a day’ vegetables, it has been known to be used in the making of gin and apparently, the result is rather good. If you are looking for professional advice on a particular property problem, whether residential or commercial, we would be happy to have a conversation with you to see if we can help. Contact us today!