Rights to light have become an increasingly contentious and confusing area in recent years to the frustration of developers. The situation has not been helped by recent cases, in particular, the 2010 case of Heaney in which a developer was ordered to demolish a part of the completed development which infringed upon a neighbour’s right to light. This case sent shock waves throughout the industry as many had assumed that damages rather than an injunction would be the appropriate remedy. The developer had acted proactively to negotiate a resolution but ultimately had lost out to an owner who refused to negotiate, wanting to receive a greater sum in damages.
In the hope of achieving greater certainty and transparency, the Law Commission is consulting on proposed changes to the law. The Law Commission’s proposals seek to balance the need to protect the amenity value of rights to light against the needs of developers. The four main proposals are:
- Abolish rights to light being acquired by prescription (i.e. long use) in the future.
- A new statutory test to clarify when damages should be granted instead of an injunction.
- A new statutory notice procedure requiring neighbours to make clear to developers whether they will be applying for an injunction to prevent an interference with their rights to light.
- Allow developers to apply to the Lands Tribunal to extinguish or modify rights to light that are obsolete or have no practical benefit.