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Right to light under threat in planning law shake-up

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Right to light under threat in planning law shake-up

Post  Panda on Tue 19 Feb - 6:49

Right to light under threat in planning law shake-up

Historic laws which guarantee householders the right to enjoy the light
which comes into their homes could be scrapped to encourage the building of
large developments, it has been announced.

Nick Boles last month only
promised that larger extensions will 'not have a big effect on the right to
light for neighbouring properties' Photo: Paul Grover
fot the Telegraph

By Wesley Johnson and Rowena Mason

10:00PM GMT 18 Feb 2013


In a new assault on planning rules, the Law Commission began a consultation,
which is backed by ministers, which could lead to the centuries-old entitlement
to daylight being ditched to stop home owners holding up building projects.

Currently, households can object to developments, including neighbours’
extensions or new houses, if they threaten the amount of natural light that
enters a home.

Removing the protection could leave almost three million households powerless
to prevent large developments near their homes, reducing their value and appeal,
campaigners warned.

Clive Betts, chairman of the Commons communities and local government
committee, said there was “no merit” in revising the laws and said that light
“makes an enormous difference to people’s homes”. “Light is actually very
important,” said Mr Betts. “If you allow people to build large extensions and
you took away their right to light, essentially people could have the enjoyment
of their homes substantially worsened.

“I can’t see any justification for scrapping it. It seems to me a perfectly
good principle, one people can understand and support. Instinctively my reaction
would be that I don’t see any merit in this.”

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The so-called “right to light”, which is under threat in the commission’s
consultation, goes back hundreds of years with cases dating to 1611 in England.
Households can gain the right if the light has been constant for at least 20

Homes which have already achieved this threshold will not be affected by the
proposed changes. But about 2.8 million homes have been built in England and
Wales in the past two decades.

The Department for Communities and Local Government “expressed an interest”
in reforming the law after the High Court unexpectedly ordered partial
demolition of a building in Leeds city centre which obstructed a neighbour’s

The demolition was ordered after Alexander Heaney, the owner of a Grade
II-listed Victorian building which served as the former Yorkshire Penny Bank
Building, objected to the development plans. Once the property had been built,
he took the developer, which was part of the High Cross group, to court.

Mr Heaney’s victory in September 2010 led to judges ordering the demolition
of the top storeys responsible for the loss of light.

The commission’s consultation document read: “It has been suggested that the
case has had a detrimental effect on the ability of rights-to-light disputes to
be resolved swiftly and amicably.” It argued that vexatious home owners were
increasingly using the ancient rights to delay projects and “extract money from
a neighbour who proposes to develop his or her land”.

There is also the perception that the right encourages neighbours to sit back
and not engage with developers, “to increase the sum they can demand [in
damages]”, the commission said.

Under the proposals, the abolition of the right to light gained after 20
years would only apply to future cases, and would not affect rights already

Prof Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said that
while such a right was important “there is also a public interest in the
development of the modern, high-quality residential, office and commercial
development that we need in our town and city centres”.

“This project examines a difficult area where a balance is needed between the
rights of different landowners,” she said.

The Government has repeatedly claimed that economic growth through
house-building and other developments is being hampered by planning laws.

The Telegraph led an eight–month campaign called Hands Off Our Land, which started in 2011 and
urged the Government not to weaken protections for green field and green belt

MPs have previously raised concerns that plans to allow bigger extensions to
homes without planning permission could affect residents’ right to light.

When the proposals were announced last year, Eric Pickles, the Communities
Secretary, said that homes should be “completely unaffected” by this issue.

Nick Boles, the planning minister, last month only promised that big
extensions will “not have a big effect on the right to light for neighbouring

A spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: “If scrapping the
ancient right-to-light laws means that developers will ignore the principles
upon which good design is based — offices and homes that allow natural light and
in which people actually want to work and live — then this could be a case of
cutting red tape which goes too far.”

A government spokesman said: “This is a report by the independent Law
Commission, which is seeking to update confusing and fragmented land law which
dates back to 1832. The Government is committed to protecting the public’s right
to natural light and recognise its importance for local amenity.”





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