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Transco plc v Stockport MBC [2004] 2 AC 1

Water damage caused by leaking pipe, natural use of land by Council

Facts

The Claimant was the owner of a gas pipe which passed under the surface of an old railway between Stockport and Denton. The Defendant was the local council which was responsible for a water pipe which supplied water to a block of flats in the nearby Brinnington Estate. In 1992, a leak developed in that water pipe, which was eventually fixed but which had not been immediately detected. In that time the water had been leaking considerably (as the pipe was large) and had saturated at the embankment where the Claimant’s gas pipe was. The embankment eventually collapsed due to the saturation, which meant that the gas pipe was left unsupported. This caused a grave risk which necessitated immediate remedial work, which was costly. The Claimant argued that the Defendant council was liable without proof of negligence (strict liability) under Rylands v Fletcher

Issue

The issue in the case was whether the rule in Rylands v Fletcher could be applied to this set of facts and specifically whether it could be held that the council’s use of the land (to deliver water to the housing estate) was a non-natural use.

Held

The court held that the council was not liable for the damage as the council’s use was a natural use of the land. The rule in Rylands v Flecther has limits and it is not possible to apply it to a burst pipe on council property. Supplying water was neither an unnatural nor specifically dangerous endeavour.


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