14th Feb 2019

Why is Parliament looking at Japanese Knotweed?

Some readers may recall a blog about the notorious Japanese Knotweed in September last year, following the report published by Dr Mark Fennell, Professor Max Wade and Dr Karen Bacon of Leeds University which hinted that perhaps the problem might not be as serious as we have all been led to believe.

Since then things have gone quiet with advice to lawyers remaining the same and if you have bought or sold a residential property recently you may have noticed that the Law Society’s Property Information Form still contains a specific question asking if the property is affected by Japanese Knotweed.  The form does not ask about any other, seemingly equally invasive plants such as buddleia.

But – progress is happening.  Parliament has found time to conduct an enquiry (I expect some light relief might have been needed recently in the House of Commons) and so hopefully advice to everyone – lawyers, property buyers and sellers, surveyors etc – from Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee will be updated before too long.

Why just Japanese Knotweed?  

It seems that when this non-native plant arrived in Britain, it quickly took hold, strangling native plants and proving difficult to eradicate completely.  There’s no question that it is a highly invasive plant but the Leeds University study appeared to show that in fact it is no more invasive or pernicious than other, native and non-native plants and raised the question as to whether it is right for it to be singled out as has been the case for a number of years.

Because this plant is so fast growing, professionals such as surveyors were so wary of the effect Japanese Knotweed might have on property such as damaging foundations, boundary walls etc, that they arbitrarily agreed that if there is evidence of Japanese Knotweed within 7 metres of habitable property (including the property’s boundaries, not just the buildings themselves) then they will not value the property for mortgage purposes – you can imagine the impact that has had on some buyers and sellers, with cases even going to Court to decide who is responsible – see my colleague Chris Langford’s report from February 2018 highlighting the risks. 

Following an oral hearing on 22 January, the Science and Technology Committee is now reviewing current advice and information and has heard from a number of professionals so that eventually proper advice can be given to everyone based on sound scientific principles.  What is certainly refreshing is to see experts and interested professionals working together so that we will hopefully have some definitive answers to questions surrounding the effect this plant has on people’s homes and lives.

I have no idea how long it will take Parliament to update its advice and information and so for the time being nothing has changed and if you spot Japanese Knotweed within or close to your property you should be aware of your obligations.  Current help and advice is available from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Environment Agency, and Natural England - see https://www.gov.uk/environment/environmental-management-wildlife-habitat-conservation-plants

Berwins will of course continue to monitor the situation and will update our blogs when more information is to hand.

Diane Scott is a Conveyancing Executive within Berwins' CQS accredited Residential Property team

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