There has been a lot of coverage in the news recently about the Right to Light and its potential demise, which seems to be part of an ongoing review of planning laws in England and Wales. Green Belt land has also been on centre stage recently.
What is your Right to Light?
It may be registered, be part of your deeds or it may not even physically exist but chances are if you have enjoyed access to sunlight over your neighbouring properties for 20 years or more, your property will have acquired a Right to Light.
Generally speaking, even if you do have a Right to Light you do not have a right to access your neighbours’ land in any way whatsoever. However, you do have a right to prevent building projects on your neighbour’s land, if they would have a considerable effect on your access to sunlight.
Clearly the problems start where neither the title register for your property (if registered) nor the title deeds (if unregistered) contain any reference to a Right to Light. You would then have to prove that your property had acquired the right by prescription in order to rely on it.
The Right to Light is rather archaic and dates back to the 1600s, but there are now calls for a revamp.
Are the Right to Light’s days numbered?
The Law Commission has begun a consultation to review whether it may be possible to boost the economy and speed up building projects by changing the law on Rights to Light.
You might think this could lead to serious upheaval with developers causing an artificial solar eclipse in every corner of the country, however such developments would still have to meet all other established planning practices to get the go ahead. What is more, properties that have already acquired a Right to Light would not be affected by the proposals.
It is uncertain what the position would be for those who have potentially acquired a right but have not yet claimed it. Proving that you already had a right if the changes are implemented may be rather difficult.
Why the call for reform after 400 years?
It is uncontroversial to say that the planning system in England and Wales is notoriously slow and burdensome. The Right to Light has recently been to blame for a case in Leeds where lengthy legal action resulted in the top storeys of a development being demolished. This is not an efficient way to build, especially at a time where the economy is acting against development.
Further reasons for a review of the current law are that:
- Right to Light cases are becoming increasingly difficult to resolve;
- delays to building projects are becoming more frequent;
- unscrupulous neighbours are using ancient rights to financially benefit from developers;
- it is in the public interest to have an efficient planning and development system;
- towns and cities throughout England and Wales need both residential and commercial development, especially in an age where the high street shop is struggling to survive; and
- delays are hindering much needed economic growth in the construction sector.
On which side of the fence to you sit?
There will clearly be mixed opinions on this subject, depending on your personal circumstances. For developers there may be intriguing opportunities ahead and growth would not be a bad thing. However, homeowners may wish to review their title deeds to make sure there are safeguards in place to protect their Right to Light, in the event of a nearby development.