Rights to Light - is development about to get more certain?

United Kingdom

The Law Commission today published its recommendations and draft Right to Light (Injunctions) Bill. The bill is intended to remedy the confusing mix of old statute and case law with the aim of reducing the scope and length of rights of light disputes between landowners and developers.

Key recommendations include:

  • a new notice procedure by which a developing landowner could require neighbouring landowners to tell them within a particular time limit whether they intend to seek an injunction to protect their rights to light against the proposed development, and if an injunction is not sought the right to do so will be lost;
  • tests and circumstances laid out in statute to clarify when damages should be paid to a neighbouring land owner as an alternative to halting a development or ordering demolition of a building;
  • an updated version of the procedure that allows landowners to prevent the acquisition of rights of light over their land by prescription/long use – although the draft bill stops short of abolishing prescription/long use as a means of acquiring rights to light; and
  • powers of the Lands Chamber to discharge or modify obsolete or unused rights to light as it currently does with restrictive covenants, and clarification on when a right to light might be treated as abandoned.

The draft bill and the recommendations are to be welcomed as a learned and sincere attempt to solve the time consuming dilemma of balancing private rights against much needed development. However there is unfortunately no guarantee that these reforms to rights to light will ever see the legislative light of day, and certainly not this side of the election.