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Underground Gas Storage Project Triggers Property Blight Dispute

A substantial part of the cost of major infrastructure projects lies in the requirement to compensate those whose properties are blighted. However, one case concerning an underground gas storage project showed that such blight can be hard to prove.

Detatched house private driveThe project involved construction of wellheads and associated compounds on a rural site extending to 350 hectares. The wells would be used to extract brine in order to create gas storage cavities, capable of holding 500 million cubic metres of natural gas, at depths of up to 850 metres below ground.

The project had been authorised by the Government and the company promoting it had been granted power to compulsorily acquire the land required. In exercise of those powers, the company intended to acquire rights in respect of a driveway leading to an eight-bedroom barn conversion.

The owner of that property served a blight notice under Section 150(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 by which she sought to require the company to purchase it at its full, unblighted, market value. The company resisted the notice and the matter was referred to the Upper Tribunal (UT) for resolution.

The owner argued that, because of the acquisition of onerous rights over her driveway, she was unable to sell the property, even at a substantially reduced price. She was particularly concerned that the project would involve fitting the drive with security gates and result in numerous heavy lorry movements, both during and after the construction phase. She had initially placed the property on the market for £1.1 million, but it had failed to sell despite a price reduction to £925,000.

In dismissing her claim, however, the UT noted that the area had historically been used for the extraction of brine to create rock salt. It accepted that the project would result in an intensification of industrial activity in the area. However, the new wellheads would be screened from view by hard or soft landscaping and would not cause material detriment to the property or its users.

The resurfacing of the drive, at the company’s expense, would positively improve the property and the provision of passing places meant that the inconvenience caused by lorry movements would be small. The UT found that the difficulty in selling the property did not arise from the project, but from the owner having placed it on the market at an unrealistically high price.

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