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Legal ruling puts motorsport venues under threat

The Supreme Court upheld a couple’s noise complaint against a motor stadium despite the fact they knew they were moving next door to a racetrack.

British touring car championship 2012

Motorsport venues could face closure even if they receive a single complaint from a disgruntled neighbour after a landmark legal decision.

The Supreme Court – the most powerful court in the land - ruled a couple that moved near a long-established racetrack in East Anglia had been the victims of "noise nuisance".

The verdict against Mildenhall Stadium in Suffolk was reached despite the fact it has been operating totally legally and with all necessary planning permissions.

Not only is the future of racing at the venue under threat due to limits being placed on the noise allowed but the promoters are also facing a six-figure legal bill.

As well as their own fees they face the prospect of paying a substantial part of their opponents’ costs - which could be more than £1,000,000.

The legal battle

Mildenhall has had a long history of motorsport. Planning permission was initially granted in February 1975 for speedway racing to take place.

Stock car and banger racing started at the stadium in 1984, while motorcross events also take place on the site.

The legal battle dates back to January 2006 when Katherine Lawrence and Raymond Shields moved into a property called Fenland close to the stadium.

Two years later they issued proceedings for an injunction prohibiting activities at the track for causing a “nuisance by noise” - and won at the High Court.

A judge made an order limiting the level of noise allowed – but this was stayed until Fenland could be rebuilt as it had been severely damaged by fire.

The Court of Appeal then ruled in favour of the track promoters but the Supreme Court disagreed and reinstated the original ruling.

Bad news for motorsport

Mervyn Rundle, an expert and noise and partner in law firm SolicitorsTitle, believes the ruling is bad news for motorsport operators.

It means that neither having planning permission nor claiming "the track was here first" is a defence against noise complaints.

"A new resident has the same rights of complaint as those who have traditionally lived in the area,” said Rundle.

He added that the decision was likely to work against motorsport venues and predicted there will be more private noise nuisance claims supported by costs insurance. 

Closure could be inevitable

"The real problem is that although the courts are unlikely to order the outright closure of tracks they may well order a reduction in activity levels to a point where many tracks become unviable economically and thus indirectly will close," he explained.

This is particularly likely to affect track-day operators which give members of the public the opportunity to racecars around a venue.

"In the long term the risk of ongoing noise nuisance action from new residents to an area and may well deter operators from investing in their tracks," added Rundle.

"It may also lead to teams, their engineers and manufacturing bases moving abroad to locations where racing and the necessary testing is not threatened by noise nuisance action."

Michael Coventry, spokesman for family-run RDC Promotions, which operates stock car and banger racing at the Mildenhall venue, said the ruling was bad news for everyone.

"If you have any hobby that involves making a noise, whether that’s motor racing, football or theatre, you’re at risk of someone moving in next door, not liking it and making a successful complaint."

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Rob Griffin

Rob Griffin

Rob Griffin is a freelance journalist who regularly appears in national publications, including The Independent and Daily Express. He covers motoring, business, and personal finance issues.

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