Land Law held their annual commercial property seminar at Altrincham Town Hall on Thursday 18 January.

The event, which aimed to provide updates on a range of topical property subjects was well attended by a mix of clients and contacts.  After a light buffet lunch, which offered guests the chance to mingle and chat over sandwiches, tea and coffee Angus Whyte, managing partner of Land Law, opened the event with a short welcome address.

Energy Efficiency

Property Law Consultant, Alan Riley, kicked off the afternoon’s discussions with an update on EPCs and the implications of the new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards Regulations which come into force on 1 April 2018.  These regulations will impose letting restrictions on those Properties falling below a minimum energy rating (currently specified as rating “E”).  This will make it an offence for property owners to enter into leases of properties achieving only an “F” or “G” rating on their EPC and works will be required to improve the efficiency of those properties before they can be let.  Alan also highlighted the planned second stage for the energy efficiency push, due to come into effect on 1 April 2023 and which will extend the regulations not just to new leases but also to continuing leases, meaning property owners will need to ensure that all their properties are upgraded prior to this date.

Construction

Following Alan, Rachel Heald of specialist construction firm Hawkswell Kilvington Limited ran through the differing ways in which the benefit and burden of construction contracts can be transferred between parties.  She highlighted that deeds of assignment should be used to transfer the benefit of contracts and deeds of novation where a transfer of both the benefit and burden is required.  She also ran through the importance of properly documenting such arrangements in writing. Rachel also discussed the mechanisms that are available for protecting against damage to property whilst construction work is being carried out.  Her suggestions of using appropriate indemnities in works contracts and exploring bespoke insurance products were particularly helpful.

Nuisance Claims

Jen Morris Land Law Partner and Head of Litigation then reviewed the recent case of Williams & Waistell v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited which involved a nuisance claim relating to Japanese Knotweed growing on railway land and affecting adjacent residential homes.  The question considered by the courts was whether the effect of the knotweed on the houses constituted a private nuisance, even though it was causing no physical damage but was making it almost impossible to sell them.  The court held that because the knotweed was affecting the properties’ values and making them difficult to sell it was a nuisance, even in the absence of physical damage.  The case is going to appeal later in 2018 and many will be interested to see if the decision is upheld.

Japanese Knotweed

Having covered some of the legal issues surrounding Japanese knotweed, expert Richard Podmore from Japanese Knotweed Company Limited then gave an insightful talk explaining how this invasive plant arrived in the UK during Victorian times and how in the intervening time just four original specimens have spread to the point where almost all the country is now affected to some degree.  He explained how to recognise Japanese Knotweed (with the help of some informative slides) and provided photos showing the damage that can be caused if the invasive plant is not dealt with.  Richard finished on a reassuring note by running through some of the various ways in which it can be treated.

Planning Update

After a brief coffee break HOW Planning partner, Neil Lucas provided a Manchester focused review of the regional and national level headlines for 2017, before concluding with an insight into what we can expect from 2018 in the field of planning and property.  He concisely summarised key planning updates including the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, February 2017 Whitepaper and Autumn Budget. A taster of how these changes are already influencing development plans in Altrincham proved particularly interesting for the local members of the audience.

Rights to Light

Continuing with a development theme, Steven Jennings litigation consultant from Land Law tackled some of the impediments to development that can be caused by neighbouring buildings having rights to light. Using real life case studies (including the injunction currently preventing the construction of Chelsea FC’s new ground), Steven highlighted how rights to light have the potential to bring development to a halt.  He also looked at the ‘consent or agreement’ proviso of section 3 of the Prescription Act 1832, which states that rights to light cannot be obtained over time, if there is proof that those rights have been enjoyed with the adjoining landowner’s permission.  Steven’s cautionary tales highlighted just how important it can be to go back and review old title deeds, and to consider the scope for future development when drafting transfers of part by excluding rights to light as a precautionary measure.

Avoiding Property Fraud

The afternoon concluded with a warning from Alan Riley about the dangers of property fraud and misappropriation of funds earmarked for property transactions.  Alan provided useful advice on the ways both solicitors and clients can minimise the risk of property fraud by, amongst other things keeping Land Registry addresses for service up-to-date, protecting properties by registering Land Registry restrictions against their titles and using the Land Registry’s Property Alert Service.

To end the afternoon, the event was followed by drinks and pizza in an example of local innovation at its best – the Altrincham Market House.

Land Law LLP would like to thank all the day’s speakers, organisers and attendees without whom the event would not have been possible.