Farmer succeeds in claim against a local authority for damage caused by pumping floodwater

A farmer has succeeded in a claim against a local authority for damage caused to crops as a result of pumping floodwater onto the farmer’s land.

The decision of The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in Robert Lindley Limited v East Riding of Yorkshire Council relates to flooding which took place 3 years ago, but will be of interest to landowners particularly in view of recent flooding in northern England and subsequent policy statements made by the government.

Local authorities, together with water companies and various government agencies such as the Environment Agency, have statutory responsibilities and powers to manage surface water flooding. On the facts of the case above, in an effort to protect properties in a nearby village, water was pumped into a watercourse which subsequently breached its banks and caused additional flooding in the farmer’s field. The local authority denied liability for the flooding of the field on the basis that it was merely coordinating the response of several different agencies, and that the pumping of water had in fact been performed by the Environment Agency and the local fire service.

The Tribunal disagreed and held that the local authority had exercised statutory powers under s14A of the Land Drainage Act 1991 (“LDA 1991”), whereas the Environment Agency had merely co-operated with and given assistance to the local authority. Accordingly the farmer was entitled to claim compensation from the local authority for the damage to crops suffered as a result of the exercise of those powers under s14(5) of the LDA 1991. The Tribunal also stated that even if the local authority had not been acting on a statutory basis, the farmer would have been entitled to compensation for nuisance under common law.

The decision in this “test case” means that similar claims made by other farmers as a result of crop losses allegedly caused by the pumping of flood waters are likely to proceed, with greater certainty as to the merits of their claims and who is liable for those claims.

At a political level, the debate continues as to the best methods of managing flood risk and the role that farmers could or should play in delivering those strategies. The government has stated that it will consider a plan to pay farmers in England for allowing their land to be flooded. Environment minister Liz Truss has also announced a plan to allow farmers to clear ditches without needing to ask for permission first. It will be interesting to see how flooding legislation develops in the coming months.

For advice about agriculture and rural business matters contact Ethan Desai.

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