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Neighbours' Disputes - Negotiate Now or Pay a High Price Later

Many neighbours' disputes may, at least to an outsider, appear trifling. However, as a High Court ruling showed, they matter very much to those involved and, in the absence of amicable negotiation, they can very easily become ruinously expensive.

A landowner asserted that his neighbours' right of way over a track that crossed his land was limited to a width of 2.15 metres. The neighbours, however, asserted that the correct figure was 2.5 metres. The dispute blew up into full-scale litigation after the landowner erected steel bollards at each end of the track that only permitted vehicles the width of a quad bike to pass by.

Following a trial, the neighbours succeeded on the principal issue concerning the track's width. Although certain other issues were decided against them, the judge ordered the landowner to pay 75 per cent of their legal costs. Both sides sought to challenge aspects of the judge's ruling but, after detecting no legal flaw in his conclusions, the Court rejected their appeals.

The Court noted that the neighbours had incurred legal costs of £427,000 in fighting the case, not including the costs of the appeal. The landowner's costs budget was £218,000, but his bill was estimated to be up to 10 per cent higher than that. Emphasising that the dispute had been conducted in an entirely disproportionate way, at entirely disproportionate cost, the Court hoped that any further disagreements arising could be resolved in a sensible and amicable fashion, without further expense.

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