Stefan Persson wants to build a new house on his 10,000-acre estate, but his neighbour's shooting rights may stop him, says Richard Manyon of Payne Hicks Beach
Imagine that you own a 10,000 acre estate in Wiltshire and that your plan is to build a mansion befitting your wealth and status at its heart. You have been granted planning permission, and it should be plain sailing from here. To bring your dream to fruition, it is necessary to chop down a large swathe of poplar trees on your property to allow for the development. The trees, in your judgment, are ugly, monotonous and out of place.
Something stands in your way, however. Your neighbour, also enormously rich (but slightly less so than you), enjoys shooting rights over your land. He argues that these rights prevent you from cutting down your trees to make room for your mansion, because doing so would interfere with the habitat of the pheasants which he comes every year to shoot.
You are outraged. Is it possible for your neighbour to restrict your ability to develop in this way to protect his seasonal pastime? The planners at the local authority have rejected his concerns, but this is a private law matter and your neighbour has instructed solicitors. Court action is threatened.
This is the situation which faces Stefan Persson, boss of the H&M clothing chain and said to be the 24th wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $16 billion. Harry Hyams, 303rd on the Sunday Times Rich List with a reported net worth of over ’300 million, is the neighbouring landowner seeking to defend his property rights. Birds of a feather they are not.
Persson owns the sprawling Ramsbury Estate, and wants to construct a three-storey mansion, which will be called Park House (pictured below). There are to be nine bedrooms and a pool, orangerie, garden pavilion and tennis courts. His putative opponent, owner of the neighbouring Ramsbury Manor, is well versed when it comes to property matters, having made his fortune cutting huge deals in London, including the landmark Centre Point tower.
As neither side is short of resources, an interesting addition to our jurisprudence is possible in this rather esoteric area. The state of the law as it stands is that a party with the benefit of shooting rights (which fall into a group of legal rights called profits a prendre) can, but will not always, be able to restrict development.
It is not an infringement for the owner of the land subject to the rights to cut timbers in the ordinary use of his land, even if this has the effect of driving away game. On the other hand, if a fundamental change to the land is made, as where the whole or a substantial part of the land is built upon, an actionable infringement can exist. If so, an injunction to restrain development would be a possibility.
This fact and degree test is likely to be music to the ears of lawyers for Persson and Hyams. There is broad scope for argument as to whether the proposed development is sufficient in scale or effect so as to interfere with Hyams' rights to the extent which would make an injunction realistic.
As an outsider, it is tempting to think that the development of even a large mansion in the context of a 10,000 acre estate would not constitute a sufficient disturbance of rights to make a successful action likely. Without knowing all of the facts though it would be difficult to speculate. Perhaps the trees to be felled in favour of the mansion are in particularly important location, or offer a habitat which is unavailable elsewhere in the estate.
Only one thing is certain. The lawyers will be looking forward to this one. A bird in the hand and all that.
Richard Manyon is an associate at Payne Hicks Beach