Councils and police given new criminal powers to tackle destructive Japanese knotweed

It has been called the triffid plant of Hampstead by Oscar winning actor Tom Conti and has a fearsome reputation as Britain’s most destructive plant.

Now councils and homeowners have a new weapon in their armoury to tackle the blight of Japanese knotweed.

The non-native species grows at a rate of 20cm a day with the potential to damage foundations and cause the value of a home to drop by tens of thousands of pounds.

But under new powers that became law last month, property owners who fail to control the invasive species in their gardens could now be prosecuted by local councils or the police using the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Home Office guidance also gives information about a new “community trigger” that be activated by individuals or organisations to force local authorities or police to deal with “previously ignored anti-social behaviour problems” such as Japanese knotweed.

The powers are likely to be welcomed by homeowners in Hampstead and Primrose Hill, including Hollywood star Mr Conti, who raised fears about the rapid spread of the knotweed on land near to their properties in the Ham&High last year.

Camden Council is currently monitoring 124 separate infestations of Japanese knotweed across the borough.

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Cllr Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member for community safety, said: “We will be talking to our communities over the coming weeks so that we can use the new powers to address those problems that matter to them most.”

Haringey does not record knotweed breakouts because the council has, up until now, treated the issue as a “civil matter between private property owners”.

The new anti-social behaviour act does not specifically refer to Japanese knotweed.

But a guidance notice issued by the Home Office, titled Reform of Anti-Social Behaviour Powers: Japanese Knotweed and Other Invasive Non-native Plants, sets out how the legislation could be used to stem its advance.

Councils and police can now issue a Community Protection Notice against individuals.

“The notice can be used to require someone to control or prevent the growth of Japanese knotweed or other plants that are capable of causing serious problems to communities,” the guidance says. “The test is that the conduct of the individual or body is having a detrimental effect of a persistent or continuing nature on the quality of life of those in the locality, and that the conduct is unreasonable.”

Any breach of a Community Protection Notice is a criminal offence subject to a £100 fine or prosecution, and companies or organisations who are taken to court could be fined up to £20,000.

Most interestingly for homeowners with knotweed near to their properties, the Home Office guidance mentions a community trigger which can be activated by an individual or organisation.

This would force local councils or police to undertake a case review into how a “persistent or previously ignored anti-social behaviour problem – which could also apply to Japanese knotweed” – can be dealt with.

This will offer reassurance for those faced with the menace of a plant that can grow through tarmac and reach heights of three metres. Some banks refuse to issue mortgages on properties that have knotweed and it can cost thousands to eradicate.