Government Rights to Light Proposals Announced

There has been speculation over the last 23 months or so about what may happen to the country’s centuries old laws that govern a building right to be kept out of the shade, not least in this Telegraph article from 2013.

To give a brief rundown of a building’s rights to light, from laws that date back as far as the 19th century and have roots in the 1600s, they are in place to protect land or structures from having the natural light that falls on them from being obstructed or reduced by development on their neighbour’s land.

The natural light that benefits a piece of land is considered a valuable commodity in the eyes of the law. If you think about it, the amount of light a property enjoys directly affects its value, with those that have an abundant supply being worth considerably more than those struggling in the dark. A building’s right to light is held to be in place essentially twenty years after its construction. After that time, the building’s right to light is assumed and nearby builds need to take that into consideration when developing. A good example of this is the BBC’s former headquarters of Broadcasting House, in London. The peculiar bowed design of the roof on the main building is like that so it could be built and still allow natural light to reach the homes behind it, even though those houses were demolished and replaced with a new wing years ago.

The worry with the new report, that began investigating right to light in February 2013, is that any changes to the law will mean that structures built within the last twenty years will lose any rights, even if they’ve been in place for nineteen years, and there will be nothing to keep developers building around them and cutting off their source of light.

What the commission was actually interested in was making sure the current regulations struck an appropriate balance between the rights of land owners and the need to develop the surrounding area. Some were worried that the commission was considering abolishing the system that was the basis for rights to light becoming acquired, called prescription. The commission’s recommendations were:

  • Procedures to ensure neighbours who wish to seek an injunction let the land owners who wish to develop know they plan to contest within a specific time;
  • A test that clears up in which cases courts must order damages paid, developments halted or demolitions ordered;
  • A revision of the procedure that enables landowners to prevent those around them acquiring rights to light by prescription;
  • An amendment to the law that treats unused rights to light as abandoned; and
  • Power to the governing bodies to remove or modify obsolete or unused rights to light.

The commission also said that, despite its provisional recommendations regarding removing prescription as the means for a building to assume its rights, it chose to reverse that recommendation.

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