Losing the Right to Light?

The Law Commission last month began a consultation examining the current law relating to “rights of light”. This is seen as key in establishing a mutually beneficial balance between landowners who currently enjoy such a right and developers keen to build.

Quite often a landowner will be unaware of the existence or use of a right to light. Unless specifically referred to in a conveyance, a landowner can acquire a right of light simply by long and continuous use. If a property enjoys the natural light flowing through its windows, a neighbouring landowner may be prevented from interfering with this right, for example where a proposed development would restrict this light. This is regardless and independent of any planning permission conditions.

The consultation process intends to look at the link between existing rights to light and the planning process and if the remedies currently available to the Courts require alteration. At present, along with damages, a court may award an injunction against a development if a neighbouring landowner can show this materially affects the right of light they have acquired and enjoyed for a 20 year period. This can obviously cause a developer substantial headaches and case law shows development has been ceased and in some cases demolished where a neighbouring property has successfully proven their right to light.

It will therefore be part of the consultation process to look at matters such as preventing the creation of ‘long user’ rights of light, where damages may be more desirable than demolishment and a form of notice procedure whereby those with the benefit of a right to light are forced at an early stage to disclose if they intend to seek an injunction.

Clearly, as greater emphasis is placed on development and the desire to remove any obstacles to its path, it will be of particular interest to developers keen for greater certainty on right to light issues. Please be aware that during the consultation process the current law remains unchanged and should you have any queries (either from the landowner or developer perspective), please do not hesitate to contact Alex Walsh al@bsglaw.co.uk (01772 253 841) or Mark Burrow mwb@bsglaw.co.uk (01524 386500) here at BSG.