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Mediation plea to warring neighbours
Posted on 30 May 2012 in Press News
Battling neighbours need to sort their differences out sensibly, a Midlands lawyer has warned.
Alex Robinson, of Stratford-upon-Avon based Lodders Solicitors, was commenting on a dispute over a farm track which is estimated to have cost farming brothers John and Colin Oliver, and their neighbours Anne Symons and Jason Burgess a total of £300,000 in legal bills.
Recently settled at the Court of Appeal it prompted Lord Justice Elias to issue a plea for common sense.
“The costs of the litigation are enormous and wholly out of proportion to the practical importance of the issue,” he stated.
It was a case which was “crying out for mediation, even assuming that it could not have been settled more informally than that”.
And he added: “All disputes between neighbours arouse deep passions and entrenched positions are taken as the parties stand upon their rights, seemingly blissfully unaware or unconcerned that they are committing themselves to unremitting litigation which will leave them bruised by the experience and very much poorer, win or lose.”
Mrs Robinson said: “It is wise advice – all too often disputes between neighbours can spiral out of control when emotions are running high.”
The farm track row centred on a right of way for agricultural machinery and the erection of gates by Ms Symons.
It was argued that the track was not wide enough for the large agricultural vehicles used by the Olivers to pass along without use of the verges either side and that the erection of the gates prevented them from using the track as it had the effect of narrowing it to the width of the hard surface on certain parts. The Olivers also needed "swing space" to allow tractors and trailers to swing over adjoining land when turning corners on the track.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the High Court's decision that the parties' intentions were set out in the deed which granted the right of way and, having looked at the surrounding circumstances at the time of the grant, that there was no evidence to support the Olivers' claim that the right extended over the verges to the track. The Court followed the previous cases of VT Engineering v Barland (1968) and Minor v Groves (2000) to confirm that there was no implied right to reasonable lateral swing space as it would mean that the landowner could not use corridors of land extending well beyond the boundaries of the track and that an owner has the right to build right up to their boundary.
The Oliver brothers were refused permission to appeal further to the Supreme Court.
“As in this County Durham example cases risk ending up horrendously expensive and disrupting,” said Mrs Robinson.
“In such circumstances better to stand back, calm down, take a deep breath, and consider whether a way might be found to resolve the issues.
“Mediation, in all sorts of legal areas, has proved highly effective in recent years. Generally, there is more willingness to sort things out by this method. It is an area we at Lodders are experienced in and can guide people on how best to proceed.”