Just a week after topping England’s recycling league table, East Lindsey District Council was left smarting following a legal challenge over noise from its refuse vehicles. It was ordered to pay compensation totalling £73,250 to three residents at the High Court on 14 November.
The Environment Department (DEFRA) had named the council on 6 November as having England’s best recycling and composting rate.1 It achieved a level of 58.4% between April 2007 and March 2008, up from just 21% two years earlier.
The council attributed its success to a separate green, recycling and residual waste collection service introduced in April 2006, combined with public education and more assisted collections.
The noise complainants all lived in the village of Manby, between Grimsby and Skegness. Two have since moved.
Manby was home to an RAF base until 1974, when it became Manby Park industrial estate. It hosts the council’s offices and waste depot, alongside several businesses.
Shortly before the new waste regime began, the council brought its refuse service in-house and chose to use its premises at the estate’s southern end. Lorries exited on the east of the estate on to the main road through the village.
Before the move, services had been run from a depot at the north of the estate, with lorries exiting onto a major road bisecting Manby. The court was unaware of noise problems during this time.
The complainants said they were shocked by the noise the new arrangements created and that the villagers had not been consulted about the changes. Staff would arrive at the site around 6am and lorries would leave at 6.30am, Monday to Saturday, in what one complainant described as a "surreal" convoy.
Complaints by villagers soon drew in the local MP, parish council and 50 residents. The council responded in December, saying that a later departure for the trucks was not realistic.
The trio sought compensation for nuisance from noise and vibration, alongside an injunction. A challenge to the legality of the depot’s planning permission was dropped a few days before the case.
The lorries’ departure time was changed from 6.30am to 7am in January 2008. Nevertheless, the problem of many noisy vehicles leaving the depot around the same time remained, so compensation was due, the judge concluded.
His Honour Judge John Leighton Williams QC found that noise from the council’s trucks had caused daily nuisance to the claimants. Compensation of £22,500 was awarded to William Bontoft, the only current resident. Victor Lamb, whose property was closest to the exit, received £36,250. His daughter Sonia Taylor received £14,500.
The council was disappointed with the verdict. Its communications officer James Gilbert claimed that the judge’s review of the evidence had a "fundamental flaw" in that residents should have expected some noise from the estate because it had once been a jet airbase. The judge had rejected this argument.
Mr Gilbert added that the depot is in a sparsely populated part of the council’s territory and has "the absolute minimum impact on our community". The verdict’s suggestion that waste depots can only be located in remote and isolated sites "has direct implications for our operations and the operations of many other councils across the country".
The judge declined to issue an injunction against the nuisance, which could have required the council to stop using the depot. This was partly because it would be costly to move the depot’s exit.
Mr Bontoft was similarly disappointed with the verdict. He told ENDS that noise from the depot remained unchanged.
The council is considering an appeal against the decision. It is facing a six-figure legal bill, in addition to the compensation order.