Flooding: Landowners challenge the Environment Agency

04 April 2018

A recent decision in the High Court has significant potential to impact on landowners and their right to secure compensation in the event that their land is flooded. Recent snow and high rainfall means that this is potentially an issue that could affect many parts of the country. Abbie Turner, senior solicitor at Lincolnshire law firm Wilkin Chapman looks in more detail at this recent case.

Climate change and its impact on the rural landscape and business are increasingly coming to the fore. Brexit and the changes to funding for farming will mean that environmental credentials and standards are set to become key.

A recent decision in the High Court has significant potential to impact on landowners and their right to secure compensation in the event that their land is flooded. Recent snow and high rainfall means that this is potentially an issue that could affect many parts of the country. Abbie Turner, senior solicitor at Lincolnshire law firm Wilkin Chapman looks in more detail at this recent case.

The case of King v The Environment Agency, has highlighted the problems experienced where local and even national flood and water management strategy adversely affects a particular landowner or group of landowners.

In this case the claimants farmed land adjacent to the River Severn near Gloucester. Historically their land had flooded on a number of occasions and increasingly so over recent years. The farmers argued that the Environment Agency (EA) had adopted a strategy in respect of flood defence to protect Gloucester at their expense. This had included the Environment Agency constructing embankments around the claimants’ land and elsewhere in the area. The landowners asserted that the Environment Agency had failed to assess the burden that was placed on them as private landowners and had in addition breached their right to the protection of property under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ultimately the judge found that the Environment Agency had explicitly put in place a policy that protected Gloucester and implicitly adversely affected the local farm land. However, the High Court found that this was not sufficient to constitute interference with the right to protection of property.  Additionally, they held that there had been a fair balancing of the rights of an individual landowner for the benefit of the general good. The landowners were therefore unsuccessful in their claim compensation. Given the length of time that there had been flooding issues and issues in the area, the case highlighted the need for early communication and correspondence with local Internal Drainage Boards, the Environment Agency and other flood and water management bodies. Working in collaboration with other local landowners and professionals is key to providing a strong voice within this important debate. There is an appeal pending.

In conclusion the case highlights the dangers of allowing without challenge, the implicit storage of flood water and use of land adjoining rivers over time. Recent schemes that we have been involved in such as the Horncastle Flood Defence scheme show how by working in collaboration with landowners, far more satisfactory results can be achieved with real benefits and appropriate levels of compensation achieved for all parties. Wilkin Chapman has wide-ranging expertise in matters relating to water management and drainage and are able to offer expert advice in negotiating easements to flood and the sale of land for water storage and management purposes. 


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