The Law Commission has announced that it will review the law on rights to light.
A ‘right to light’ is an easement that gives a landowner the right to receive natural light through defined apertures (e.g. windows) in buildings on their land. These rights are valuable, as they give landowners (and their purchasers) certainty that they will continue to enjoy natural light.
The review will look at whether the current law on how rights to light are acquired and enforced provides an appropriate balance between those landowners who benefit from the rights and those who want to develop in the vicinity of the land. It will also examine the inter-relationship between the planning system and rights to light, and whether the remedies available to the courts are “reasonable, sufficient and proportionate.”
The announcement of the review is good news for developers.
Developers have faced a lot of uncertainty since the September 2010 ruling in HKRUK II (CHC) Ltd v Heaney, when the High Court awarded an injunction against a developer who had infringed the right to light of a neighbouring commercial property, despite the development having been completed. The Court held that the payment of damages was not necessarily an appropriate recompense for interfering with a landowner’s right to light; consequently, the removal of a structure, or part of a structure, is now possible. The ruling highlights how important it is that developers resolve any potential rights of light issues before commencing their development.
However, it should be noted that the ruling didn’t change the law and, therefore, the decision in each case will always be dependent on its own facts. Further details of the ruling are here.
Whilst the review is welcome, any change to the law is some way off.
The review will begin in 2012, with a consultation paper expected to be published in 2013. A final report and draft legislation could be available by late 2014 or early 2015.