Farmers are often required to give contractors access to their fields so that they can work on utilities pipes or cables that run beneath them. However, as a High Court case showed, they do not have to put up with unreasonable damage to their land.
The case concerned a field crossed by an underground high-voltage cable. Pursuant to wayleave rights, a utility company’s contractors entered onto the land in order to replace the cable. Work was carried out in wet weather and the field’s tenant said that it was left in a complete and utter mess, looking like a bomb site.
After he launched proceedings, asserting that the contractors’ conduct amounted to trespass and/or negligence, a judge noted that he carried on his business in an essentially undocumented and informal manner. That gave rise to gaps in the evidence and the company disputed almost every aspect of his claim.
Ruling on the matter, the judge found that he had exclusive possession of the field, over which he held an informal tenancy. Even had there been no tenancy, the physical and economic reality was that he had sufficient control and right of possession over the field to enable him to maintain an action for trespass.
The judge was satisfied that the contractors’ conduct was such as to cause damage to the field which went beyond what was contemplated or permitted by the wayleave rights. The company plainly owed him a duty to take reasonable care to see that the field was not physically damaged during the works or at least to ensure that any damage was repaired in a reasonably prompt manner.
As a result of the damage, the farmer’s plans to grow a cash potato crop on the field in the relevant season were thwarted. There was also a loss of yield on a spring barley crop. The company was ordered to pay him £58,652 in damages, not including interest.
Kirby v Electricity North West Limited.