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Judge Awards Substantial Damages in Scaffolding Trespass Case

Building works to extend or improve your property may involve temporary incursions onto your neighbour's land, for which permission is required. In a case that showed the serious consequences of pressing ahead without such consent, partners in a medical practice were ordered to pay substantial damages for trespass.

The partners wished to create a new education centre by demolishing and rebuilding an annexe to the practice's premises. The works required the erection of scaffolding on a neighbour's land, on which stood an office building. Despite efforts to persuade him, the neighbour refused permission for that to be done.

Regardless of his refusal, the partners pressed ahead with the project. Their builders entered his land and erected scaffolding which for some months entirely blocked a driveway over which he enjoyed vehicular access. After he launched proceedings, the partners admitted trespass but argued that he had suffered no or minimal loss and should be awarded little more than £1,000 in compensation.

Ruling on the case, a judge found that the neighbour had significantly exaggerated the impact that the trespass had upon him and his own plans to convert the office building into flats. He was, however, wholly within his rights to refuse consent for the erection of the scaffolding, which was footed entirely on his land. He was awarded £300 in compensation for each of the 31 weeks during which the trespass continued, a total of £9,300.

In also awarding him £2,500 in exemplary damages, the judge noted that the partners knew full well that he had not consented to the scaffolding works. They took the view that any compensation payable to him would be outweighed by the benefit to them of completing the annexe. The award marked the judge's disapproval of the partners' conscious decision to carry out the trespass.