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Rights of light: maximising floor area

Michael Harper
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Michael Harper, head of Rights of Light at GIA, explains how to maximise new development floor area while respecting rights of light constraints

Rights of Light are a private legal consideration between adjoining property owners. Whenever a new development is larger than that previously on the site, there may potentially be a Rights of Light injury to the neighbouring property owners. Even though planning consent may have been granted for the proposal, there may be a Rights of Light injury to the neighbouring properties which, in the worst case scenario, could result in a claim for an injunction against the proposal by those adjoining property owners. 

In order to minimise the potential Rights of Light risk from injunction or claim for compensation from the adjoining owners, the scheme should be designed with an understanding of the Rights of Light risk. The most effective way to do this is to design the scheme within a so-called “maximum development envelope”. This envelope respects the Rights of Light to all the neighbouring property owners. An example of these envelopes is seen below. 

Drawings 1 & 2 show the existing site layout whilst Drawings 3 & 4 show the proposed maximum building envelope to respect Rights of Light to the neighbouring buildings. It may be seen that the planes of the envelope emanate from the windows of the potentially affected surrounding properties. The 3D maximum development envelope may be used by the architect to design their scheme to ensure that the scheme is within the envelope. The architect can be sure that by designing the scheme within the envelope, there will be no actionable Rights of Light injury to those neighbouring properties. GIA can easily construct a 3D maximum building envelope from information taken from the surrounding properties and the existing site using either a measured survey or a photographic survey.

Once the scheme has been designed, this can be checked to ensure that there is no Rights of Light injury to those surrounding properties. If, for strategic reasons, there needs to be a breach of the maximum building envelope, those locations surrounding the site where the injury potentially will occur can be identified and appropriate alternative strategies put in place. These might include either paying compensation to that potentially affected property owner or taking out Rights of Light insurance to mitigate the risk from a claim being brought by the affected property owner.

It is advisable to consider the Rights of Light implications from a development site at an early stage, so that Rights of Light risk can be mitigated and designed around prior to RIBA Stage C.

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