In recent years, environmental controversy has tended to steer clear of industrial operators. Many of the real, and often seemingly intractable, problems affecting the environment are perceived to be attributable to the actions of society at large, to our carbon emissions, the cars and public transport we all use, and the wastes created by our affluent lifestyle, rather than to the operation of an identifiable manufacturing facility or other industrial plant. This April, the spotlight was turned on the UK government, which was ordered by the Supreme Court to produce new plans to reduce the very high levels of air pollution produced not by industrial facilities, but in city centres, largely as a result of traffic.

An industrial operator, whose plant is operated in conformity with strict modern environmental regulatory controls, in a business often long established in a particular locality, may therefore consider the threat of legal proceedings to be a fairly remote contingency. However, such confidence may well prove to be misplaced, and environmental nuisance claims may pose a significant financial risk to such operators.

In the last couple of years there has been a noticeable rise in the number of civil proceedings and threatened proceedings against industrial operators, based on claims of environmental nuisance. A number of different factors lie behind this.

Firstly, there has been an increasing disconnect between industrial organisations and the communities in which they operate. Traditionally, many industrial businesses had a significant workforce, who usually did not have their own transport and lived very close to where they worked, sometimes in housing provided by their employer. In modern conditions, the same businesses have much smaller workforces, often fairly highly paid and with their own transport, who may live some distance from their workplace. Their places in the residential areas close to the business have been taken by incomers with no relationship to the business. The incomers may well be much more sensitive to the environmental impacts even of very well regulated industrial activity than their predecessors. Sometimes developers have been given planning permission for new residential properties which are inappropriately close to the site of industrial activity or perhaps a landfill operation.

Jul-Sep 2015 issue