Nuisance complaints are a surprisingly common occurrence. While there are no statistics for general nuisance complaints, there were a total of 356,367 noise complaints recorded by local authorities in 2020/2021, giving an idea of just how many complaints councils receive in general.


The case we will be discussing today doesn’t exclusively focus on a noise complaint. Instead, it relates a general nuisance complaint regarding noise, smells, chemical drainage into a garden, and excess waste by a restaurant.


A woman who had suffered for years from nuisance caused by a nearby restaurant has received over £3000 from Brentwood Council. This decision comes prior to further investigations and enforcement action.


The woman impacted, referred to as Ms X, was a Brentwood homeowner who had made several nuisance complaints to the council regarding the above going back as far as 2018.  The restaurant itself had opened in 2017.


As well as being unable to enjoy her home and garden, her health had also been affected by the restaurant’s practises.


What was the restaurant accused of being in breach of?


According to Ms X, the restaurant was in breach of the following:


  • Business licence conditions
  • Failure to comply with a planning condition, as well as continuing to complete further developments without planning permission
  • Causing the woman significant issues due to the breaches and nuisances


Following Ms X’s complaints, the council finally decided to investigate the woman’s concerns by visiting the restaurant. However, much to her dismay, the council decided that there were no statutory noise nuisances being committed by the restaurant in question. The council had visited the restaurant when it wasn’t busy, leading Ms X to ask them to return at a time that it was actually busy.


What happened next?


Following the council’s failure to take any action against the restaurant, bar speaking to them about drainage issues and licence condition breaches, Ms X made a formal complaint.


However, this was also to no avail, with the council deciding there was no evidence of statutory noise or smell nuisance and that there had been no failings in its planning process.


Further attempts to report the nuisance complaints and escalate also ended in failure, leading her to bring her concerns to the Ombudsman in September 2022 while continuing to make regular reports to the council.


This step finally resulted in some decisive action in favour of the woman, with the Ombudsman deciding following an investigation that the council had failed to:


  • consider the powers available to it to enforce the boundary screening it set as a planning condition in 2017, in good time;
  • consider in good time the retrospective planning applications made in 2021;
  • to consider the various nuisances Ms X reported via its environmental health enforcement and statutory nuisance procedures;
  • communicate with Ms X or respond properly to her complaint; and
  • have due regard to Ms X’s human rights under The First Protocol, Article 1, which entitles her to peaceful enjoyment of her home and land.


The Ombudsman also decided that the council was at fault for causing Ms X “avoidable distress, and time and trouble.” They also concluded that there remains uncertainty for Ms X about how things may have been different for her had the Council acted without fault, and this uncertainty caused her distress.”


What were the outcomes of the Ombudsman’s decision?


The Ombudsman gave the Council a deadline of three months to confirm what action it has taken or will take as a result of the report.


The Council has agreed that they will:


  • Pay Ms X a total of £3,450
  • Apologise to Ms X for their faults and the impact the faults had on her
  • Create an action plan for investigating all outstanding planning, environmental health, and licensing issues without delay


The ombudsman also tasked the Council with reviewing its process for collaborative working between its environmental health, licencing and planning teams, as well as to review its environmental health enforcement and statutory nuisance policies.


Our comments


This case provides a real lesson to businesses on the danger of causing nuisance to the general public. While it may be tempting to ignore small issues if it seems like they can merely be dismissed, it is usually better to stop them at the source by engaging with the nuisance complaints. This can save businesses costs further down the line and also prevent any potential legal action being taken against them. We gave some advice regarding what businesses should do to deal with noise complaints here.


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