This article originally appeared in a previous quarterly publication by Mills-Reeve
In any discussion of the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Railtrack plc v London Borough of Wandsworth (30 July 2001), there is no point in beating around the bush. It is a case involving pigeon.err.droppings. Unfortunately, we can't spare you the gory details by calling the stuff 'guano', because that refers to a sea bird's number two (so to speak) and the pigeons in question were all confirmed landlubbers.
The case concerned the nuisance caused to the good citizens of Wandsworth as they tiptoed somewhat gently underneath the railway bridge which crosses Balham High Street in South London. The pigeons roosted on the underside of the bridge and were sufficiently indiscriminate in their toilette to force anyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity to keep a weather eye out for imminent aerial bombardment, whilst at the same time trying to keep their shoes clean. Or, as Kennedy LJ, who gave the leading judgement in the Court of Appeal, put it somewhat more graphically, the "droppings fouled the pavement, and at times the pedestrians as well".
A Rum State Of Affairs
The bridge in question was built in 1929, but it was only in the last two decades that the pigeon peril had become so great that the citizens of Balham felt it necessary to register complaints on a regular basis. No explanation was provided for this fact, although Kennedy LJ did venture to suggest that the cut of the Balham jib might not be what it once was: "Whether that is because previously people were less inclined to register complaints.is not clear.". To be fair, he also noted the possible causal Link between the attraction to wild pigeons of urban centres with plentiful food supply and the fact that there are 89 separate food outlets within 500 metres of the bridge.
In April 1990, the Borough obtained permission from Railtrack's predecessor in title to install netting and panels to prevent pigeons from getting into the bridge. This was quite successful, but some pigeons managed to get in anyway, became trapped and died. That led to the removal of the netting in March 1995 which, in turn, resulted in the birds returning to their natural home with the unerring accuracy of.well.homing pigeons. Unfortunately, the plumbing facilities under the bridge were no better this time round, and the Borough's postbag was no doubt once again full to overflowing with letters of complaint.