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Hunter v Canary Wharf [1997] AC 655, HL

Television signal, actionable nuisance, property right requirement for claimants

Facts

A large tower was constructed in the Docklands area of East London which now goes by the name of One Canada Square. It was constructed by Canary Wharf Ltd. The tower was 250 metres tall and was completed near the end of 1990. Its location was very close (less then 10 kilometres away) to the primary television transmitter of the BBC, which is located in Crystal Palace. As a result, the tower interfered with the television reception of a group of residents of the Isle of Dogs. This interference was fixed by April 1991 through the installation of a broadcast relay in Balfron Tower. The claim in the case argued private nuisance for the period during which interference was felt. 690 claims were made against Canary Wharf Ltd on those grounds. Further, 513 claims were started against London Docklands Development Corporation for damages suffered from excessive dust emanating from the construction site. Some of the claimants were either owners or tenants, but others did not have any property interests.

Issue

The issue in this case was whether interference with one’s television reception amounted to actionable nuisance and further, whether it was necessary for the claimant to have a property interest before a claim could be launched.

Held

It was held that interference with one’s television reception through the construction of a neighbouring structure could not and does not amount to an actionable nuisance. Further, it was held that only claimants with property rights can launch actions for private nuisance. Khorasanjian v Bush [1993] 3 WLR 476was overruled in the parts holding that a mere licensee can start a private nuisance action.

It was observed by the court that:

“In this case, however, the defendants say that the type of interference alleged, namely by the erection of a building between the plaintiffs' homes and the Crystal Palace transmitter, cannot as a matter of law constitute an actionable nuisance. This is not by virtue of anything peculiar to television. It applies equally to interference with the passage of light or air or radio signals or to the obstruction of a view. The general principle is that at common law anyone may build whatever he likes upon his land. If the effect is to interfere with the light, air or view of his neighbour, that is his misfortune. The owner's right to build can be restrained only by covenant or the acquisition (by grant or prescription) of an easement of light or air for the benefit of windows or apertures on adjoining land.” (Lord Hoffman).


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