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Highways Authority Can be Liable in Statutory Nuisance for Flooding Caused by Bridges

James Pereira QC

A recent decision of the High Court has wide ranging implications for highway authorities responsible for bridges over rivers that are prone to flooding. In R (Robinson) v Torridge DC and Devon County Council [2006] EWHC 877 (Admin), the claimant's house beside the river Torridge in Devon suffered regular flooding. He alleged that this was caused by the arches of a nearby bridge that restricted the proper flow of the river, so as to cause a statutory nuisance under section 259(1)(b) Public Health Act 1936. He started judicial review proceedings to compel the District Council to serve an abatement notice on the County Council who are the highway authority responsible for the bridge, and a declaration that a bridge was capable of choking the river within the meaning of section 259. The District Council consented to judgment and served an abatement notice, but the County argued that the case was unsuitable for a declaration, and that the circumstances fell outside section 259. Hodge J held that the question of construction was of practical benefit to the magistrates' court proceedings, and therefore gave a judgment on the meaning of section 259 although he declined to make a declaration. He held that a bridge can choke a watercourse within the meaning of section 259, and that an intermittent state of affairs may still fall within the section. James Pereira represented the successful claimant, instructed by Peter Scott of Toller Beattie Solicitors