Japanese knotweed: Phil Spencer discusses plant
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Japanese knotweed is a fast-growing plant with tall, dense stems that die back in the winter and return with bamboo-like stems in the early summer. The plant is notoriously difficult to eradicate and can cause problems for property sales. The destructive weed can potentially decrease the value of a property by 15 percent and can cost thousands to oust.
However, new guidance issued by surveyors could make it easier for property sales.
Previously, a mortgage would not be offered to a buyer if Japanese knotweed is found within seven metres of the building.
But new advice from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has “scrapped” the “blunt” seven-metre rule for a more lenient approach.
The new advice, which will be put in place from March, will mean surveyors who are assessing a property for a lender, won’t need to flag Japanese knotweed risk unless it is causing visible damage to the property.
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The new guidance will allow homeowners to proceed with property sales even if they have Japanese knotweed on their premises.
The rule change will also give surveyors an opportunity to use their judgement.
RICS published the new guidance note this week called Japanese Knotweed: Guidance for Professional Valuers and Surveyors which replaced the previous information paper.
The guidance “reflects an improved understanding” of the invasive weed.
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The guidance was reviewed following a Parliamentary Inquiry in 2019 which concluded that the approach to Japanese knotweed in the UK was “overly cautious”.
RICS’ new guidance said Japanese knotweed poses “little or no risk of structural damage to robust buildings with substantial foundations” compared to buildings such as garages, conservatories and boundary walls.
The industry body continued: “There is also a recognition that the most appropriate objective when Japanese knotweed is encountered is to ensure an appropriate level of control rather than to automatically strive for eradication.
“In some circumstances, for example when construction is proposed, proper control may involve physical removal but in many domestic situations effective control can be achieved by the managed application of herbicides.
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“As part of normalising expectations in relation to Japanese knotweed, the assessment directs the valuer or surveyor to outcomes related to the management of Japanese knotweed rather than emphasising risk to buildings.”
Philip Santo, author of the new guidance, said in June 2021 that the guidance will aim to create confidence and awareness that knotweed isn’t a “death sentence for home sales”.
He said: “Creating confidence and awareness that knotweed isn’t a death sentence for home sales is a key principle behind this guidance – it’s certainly not the ‘bogey plant’ that some make it out to be.
“In most instances the weed can be remediated with effective treatment – so it’s critical that all those involved in the home buying and selling process have access to unbiased, factual information, that sets out when they need to obtain reputable remediation services.”
Nic Seal, founder and MD of invasive plant specialist Environet UK said the new guidance is “cautious and sensible”, describing the seven metre rule as “blunt”.
He also said he is pleased that the new advice focuses on the effect knotweed has on the use and enjoyment of amenities such as a garden.
However, he criticised the guidance’s suggestion that control knotweed may be more appropriate than eradicating it.
He said: “If there’s any criticism, it would be that the Guidance Note suggests control of knotweed may be a more appropriate goal than eradication.
“While herbicide treatment can be an effective approach in certain cases, there are often very good reasons to make eradication the goal – and by settling for ‘control’ the bar is lowered for the sake of a lower initial cost.
“Herbicide treatment is particularly inappropriate where the plant’s location could impact neighbouring properties and be subject to potential legal claims, or on more valuable properties where the diminution of value justifies the higher cost of removal.”
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