• In the case of Transco Plc v Stockport MBC [2004] A.C. 1, it was held that the piping of a water supply from the mains to storage tanks within a property was a routine function that would not ordinarily create a hazard, and therefore was considered an ‘ordinary use of the land’ under the Ryland v Fletcher rule.

Facts of the Case

  • D built and let a multi-storey block of flats to residents.
  • Water was carried using a mains pipe leading to tanks in the basement.
  • The capacity of this pipe was much greater than that of a pipe for a single dwelling but was otherwise regular and carried water at mains pressure.
  • Without negligence by D or its agents, the pipe failed at a point within the block, leading to the escape of water.
  • The pipe failure went undetected for a prolonged period, allowing a very considerable quantity of water to escape.
  • The escaping water flowed some distance from the block into an embankment supporting C’s high-pressure gas main.
  • The water pressure on the gas main caused the embankment to collapse, leaving the gas main exposed and unsupported.
  • C took prompt action to return the gas main to an unexposed and secure state to prevent it from cracking.
  • C attempted to recover the costs of repairs from D.


  • Was the water ‘something likely to cause danger or mischief if it escaped,’ and was D’s use of the water an ordinary use of the land?

Held by the House of Lords

  • Finding for D, that piping a water supply to a block of flats was a routine function that would not have struck anyone as giving rise to an exceptionally high risk of danger or mischief if it escaped.
  • Furthermore, D had not accumulated any water on their land, but had arranged for an adequate supply for the needs of residents. This was not an unusual or extraordinary use of the land. As such, it would be unfair to impose strict liability on D.

Lord Hoffman

  • There is a broad and ill-defined exception for ‘natural’ uses of land, which has left it very difficult for a claim under the Rylands v Fletcher rule to succeed.
  • It must be remembered that the rule is only concerned with property damage, and that insurance against this in various forms is extremely common. A guide to deciding whether the risk was created by a ‘non-natural’ use of land would be to ask whether the damage was something against which the occupier could reasonably be expected to have insured himself. People should be encouraged to insure their own property rather than pursue litigation with heavy transactional costs.
  • “The Court of Appeal was right to say that it was not a ‘non-natural’ user of land. I am influenced by two matters. First, there is no evidence that it created a greater risk than is normally associated with domestic or commercial plumbing. True, the pipe was larger. But whether that involved greater risk depends upon its specification. One cannot simply assume that the larger the pipe, the greater the risk of fracture or the greater the quantity of water likely to be discharged…Secondly, I think that the risk of damage to property caused by leaking water is one against which most people can and do commonly insure. This is, as I have said, particularly true of C, which can be expected to have insured against any form of damage to its pipe. It would be a very strange result if C were entitled to recover against D when it would not have been entitled to recover against the Water Authority for similar damage emanating from its high pressure main” [49].