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Allen v Gulf Oil Refinery [1981] AC 1001 House of Lords

The claimant brought an action in nuisance for the smell, noise and vibration created by an oil refinery which had been constructed by the defendant on their land. The defendant’s action in constructing the oil refinery was authorised by an Act of Parliament.


The defendant was not liable as it had a defence of statutory authority.

Lord Wilberforce:

"The respondent alleges a nuisance by smell, noise, vibration, etc. The facts regarding these matters are for her to prove. It is then for the appellants to show, if they can, that it was impossible to construct and operate a refinery upon the site conforming with Parliament's intention, without creating the nuisance alleged, or at least a nuisance. Involved in this issue would be the point discussed by Cumming Bruce LJ in the Court of Appeal, that the establishment of an oil refinery, etc. was bound to involve some alteration of the environment and so the standard of amenity and comfort which neighbouring occupiers might expect. To the extent that the environment has been changed from that of a peaceful unpolluted countryside to an industrial complex (as to which different standards apply Sturges v. Bridgman (1879) 11 Ch.D.852) Parliament must be taken to have authorised it. So far, I venture to think, the matter is not open to doubt. But in my opinion the statutory authority extends beyond merely authorising change in the environment and an alteration of standard. It confers immunity against proceedings for any nuisance which can be shown (the burden of so showing being upon the appellants) to be the inevitable result of erecting a refinery upon the site   not, I repeat, the existing refinery, but any refinery  however carefully and with however great a regard for the interest of adjoining occupiers it is sited, constructed and operated. To the extent and only to the extent that the actual nuisance (if any) caused by the actual refinery and its operation exceeds that for which immunity is conferred, the plaintiff has a remedy."
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