If you are considering building an extension to your property, you may think that it is simply a matter of getting planning permission and finding a builder. A recent case shows, however, how important covenants affecting property can be in determining whether developments of any kind can go ahead.

The case involved an upmarket housing estate called Heron Island, which is near Reading. The estate is adjacent to the Thames. One of the homeowners wanted to build a three storey extension to his property that would have partially obscured the view of the river for some of his neighbours. The neighbours objected to the planning application. The planning inspector’s opinion was that whilst there would be some loss of view for one household, this did not result in a material diminution in living standards. There is no general right in law to a view. The planning application was granted on appeal.

The objectors then used a different line of attack. The properties were conveyed with a covenant prohibiting owners from doing anything which would constitute a ‘nuisance or annoyance’ to the other owners on the estate. One owner in particular argued that he put great store on his river views, which would be greatly curtailed by the extension. Also, the windows in one aspect of the development would interfere with his privacy. Other owners gave evidence that their views of the river would be partially obscured.

One of the more interesting aspects of this case was that the obstruction of the view was minor. However, the judge, who visited the estate and had the benefit of seeing computer-generated evidence, had to decide the question ‘would reasonable people, having regard to the ordinary use of their houses for pleasurable enjoyment, be annoyed and aggrieved by the extension?’ On that basis, he concluded, “In my view the three storey red brick extension would trouble the minds of the ordinary sensible English inhabitant of any of those three houses and in those circumstances it does constitute an annoyance within the meaning of the covenant.”