The Home Office has issued guidance in relation to Japanese knotweed.
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 states that failure to act” i.e. property owners not controlling Japanese knotweed where it affects the quality of life of those in the community could find themselves being served with a Community Protection Notice. Failure to comply with the Community Protection Notice could result in a criminal offence and large fines (up to £2,500 for individuals and £20,000 for organisations).
A sledge hammer to crack a nut. Or is this a necessary new power to control this invasive species?
Nic Seal, from Environet UK Ltd, a leading specialist in Japanese knotweed eradication, gives his view.
It’s an emphatic NO, which might come as a surprise bearing in mind it can only help our business and the Japanese knotweed industry as a whole.
There are already legislative instruments in place that are now widely used in cases of Japanese knotweed encroaching from one piece of land to adjoining land. It’s called civil nuisance, it’s been around a long time, it’s a well understood civil procedure and gives the victim of nuisance suitable redress through the courts.
Local Authorities already have powers under the Town & Country Planning Act section 215 to force landowners to clear up land, including that infested by Japanese knotweed, if it detracts from local amenities. The Local Authority can even engage specialists to carry out the work and seek payment from the owner by way of a charge over the property that is registered with Land Registry.
Council Officers who enforce the new ASBO powers granted to them will now need knowledge of invasive weeds such as Japanese knotweed. The identification, determination of source and best treatment method require someone with extensive experience and expertise. Is a Council or Police Officer, perhaps more used to dealing with the noisy late night drinker, best positioned to make decisions on such things as Japanese knotweed?
Of course the implementation of these new powers comes at a cost. Who should bear the burden of these costs? Should it be the Local Authority (hence tax payer) or the affected property owners seeking to protect their property interests?
Japanese knotweed is a big problem, but in my view these new powers are an over-reaction. After all, having Japanese knotweed on your land is not a criminal offence, and these new powers have the hallmarks of making something criminal via the back door. Granting these powers to Local Authorities is a step too far, with the State assuming responsibility for something that should, and does already, lie firmly with property owners.