Couple to get £15,000 award over pylon in their garden

Northern Ireland Electricity could face hundreds of new compensation claims following a landmark verdict over a pylon located in a south Belfast couple's garden, it was predicted on Friday.

The Court of Appeal upheld a £15,500 compensation award to Roy and Ivy McKibbin for the company’s alleged refusal to remove the tower from the side of their home in the Four Winds area.

Judges backed an assessment that the property had diminished in value by 10% due to the presence of what the couple described as a “monstrosity”.

The McKibbins’ solicitor, John Gibbons, predicted the test case verdict could open the floodgates to a huge number of similar claims.

He said: “This case now opens the way for all similarly affected homeowners, whose use and enjoyment of their property is diminished by power lines or NIE equipment, to seek suitable compensation.

“There are already many claims lodged with the Lands Tribunal that will now have to be dealt with and we anticipate many hundreds of new claimants will now come forward.”

NIE Networks Ltd mounted appeals following Lands Tribunal decisions related to installations on both industrial and residential property.

Under current legislation land owners and occupiers can seek compensation for involuntary “wayleaves” required to place equipment and cabling.

In one case the tribunal had awarded £30,000 compensation to cover a drop in market value of Brickkiln Waste Ltd’s land in Maydown, Londonderry.

Setting aside that award, the court held there had been a failure to demonstrate any diminution.

Turning to Mr and Mrs McKibbin’s case, however, Sir Reg Weir set out how they had requested the removal of NIE equipment after the last of their voluntary agreements ended in 2009.

The couple stated that their enjoyment of their house and garden was impaired by birds on the tower leaving droppings on the garden and car beneath.

Reference was made to the wires making a “singing” noise in some weather conditions, along with difficulties in maintaining their garden due to the pylon’s legs.

“They describe the tower in their garden as ‘a monstrosity’, a description which from the photographs does not seem an exaggeration,” Sir Reg said.

The court also heard a Bank of Ireland policy document expressed reluctance to lend on properties where high power lines pass over the house or garden except in exceptional circumstances.

The public perception is that the health of those living close to power lines may be adversely affected, according to the McKibbins’ evidence.

NIE appealed the tribunal’s decision that £15,500 compensation should be paid to reflect the potential drop in the worth of their property.

But based on an examination of the evidence and photographs, Sir Reg held that it was fully entitled to assess the diminution in value at 10%.

The McKibbins were also awarded all their legal costs.

Outside court their lawyer confirmed he will be seeking to have other similar cases listed for hearing as soon as possible.

Mr Gibbons added: “As the negative perception of electricity equipment very close to residential property,continues to grow, these types of claims are bound to become more prevalent.

“They are common place in the rest of the UK, where power line companies have been compensating homeowners for decades.

“Unfortunately, up to now, NIE Networks appears to have preferred to fight every claim and bury their head in the sand.”

Nick Jordan Property Compensation Consultants, who fought the case on behalf of the McKibbins, said: “We are thrilled that after six years of litigation the result has come out in our favour.”