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Architects welcome right to light move

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Architects have welcomed radical plans to remove right to light protection for new buildings

Government law advisors have launched a consultation on reforms which would end automatic prescription of rights to light for buildings when they become more than 20 years old.

The Law Commission’s proposals are the latest attempt by government to kick-start the economy by eliminating barriers to development with reviews of planning law and building regulations already underway.

Some 2.8 million homes built in the last two decades could be impacted by the land law reform however historic rights held by properties would remain.

Welcoming the proposal, John Assael of Assael Architecture blamed right to light for ‘seriously damaging our cities.

‘The current regime gives existing neighbours a ransom on development as well as promoting technical standards more appropriate for “bungalow land”, and not dense, sustainable urban cities.’   

Simon Allford of AHMM hit out at the historic legislation as a ‘dark box of uncertainty and intrigue’ and a system which ‘only just works’.

He said: ‘A smart rethink appropriately fair to both parties that is unfettered by the irresponsible claims of light-chasing “professionals” must be a good thing.’

The consultation follows a landmark judgment where a Leeds developer was ordered to partially demolish a building because it blocked light to a neighbour.

Boodle Hatfield solicitor Robert Marchbank said right to light had become ‘much more of a nuisance’ following the judgment because it was now unclear whether developers would be ordered to pay damages or face an injunction to demolish a building.

He said: ‘The reform will be beneficial but it probably doesn’t go far enough because existing prescribed rights will remain. Where there are existing rights to light there is still a risk an injunction could be taken out against a developer.’

Marchbank said architects would face ‘much less restrictions on design’ if the risk of demolition was removed and developers were free to take a ‘commercial approach’ to paying damages where right to light is infringed.

EC Harris head of residential Mark Farmer was however sceptical of the economic benefits. ‘The biggest immediate impact on the economy would be to help developers unlock some of the large redevelopment sites in city centre locations. However, many of these sites will have existing buildings on them more than 20 years old.

‘Unless you are developing in somewhere like Canary Wharf, this will therefore still potentially heavily constrain the true impact of this relaxation on urban regeneration.’

The consultation closes on 16 May.

Key proposals: right to light reform

(1) Abolish rights to light by prescription

(2) Introduce statutory test to clarify when courts may order damages instead of demolishing a building which affects a right to light

(3) Introduce statutory notice procedure requiring concerned parties to clarify if they intend to apply for an injunction over rights to light

(4) Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal to extinguish obsolete or impractical rights to light with compensation in appropriate cases


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