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Watts Bulletin (Issue 139)

Welcome to the March issue of the Watts Bulletin. Chancellor George Osborne delivered his fourth Budget on 20 March, announcing a raft of measures designed to stimulate the construction industry and housing in particular. The industry gave a cautious welcome to the plans for housing, which include the launch of a ‘Help to buy’ scheme, an £800 million boost for new homes for private rent and the promise of double the existing funding for the Affordable Homes Guarantee scheme. In addition the future funding regime for social housing will be finalised in June, said the Chancellor.

An additional £3 billion of extra capital spending for infrastructure was announced in the Budget, but this will not come into effect for another two years. Instead capital spending will fall back in 2015-2016 but will receive a £3billion windfall in 2015 as a result of “extra savings” to be made by government departments. Industry commentators hope that this will help boost local economies and generate a positive impact on regional property markets.

The announcement that all new homes will be zero-carbon rated by 2016 and the pledge that the government will announce plans for the revision of Part L of the Building Regulations by May 2013 were also welcomed. These moves towards higher environmental standards are echoed by the UK Green Construction Board’s initiative to promote greener working practices in construction, reported in ‘Carbon emissions reduction ‘urgent’’. This month we also look at the government’s new infrastructure toolkit, now out for consultation; the newly launched BIM standards; and the possibility of changes to the rights to light regime. Read on for more details.

Watts Bulletin (Issue 139)

New approach to rights to light?

In response to recent high profile cases hinging on rights to light, the Law Commission has published a consultation looking at the legal framework surrounding this traditional easement.

March Bulletin Main 2013

Under existing legislation, rights to light give landowners access to a prescribed level of natural daylight in buildings on their land. This right may enable landowners to prevent construction of a building or structure that that would interfere with their access to natural daylight, or in extreme cases, to have a building, or part of it, demolished. Where development has already taken place, a court may award substantial damages to adjoining landowners rather than order demolition of the building in question. It is not always clear what action the court will take and landowners may succeed in preventing development even if they raise their concerns after building has commenced.

The aim of the Law Commission consultation is to investigate “whether the law by which rights to light are acquired and enforced provides an appropriate balance between the important interests of landowners and the need to facilitate the appropriate development of land”. Anyone interested in responding to the consultation is also asked to consider the interrelationship of rights to light with the planning system and whether the remedies available to the courts where rights to light are infringed are reasonable, sufficient and proportionate. The Law Commission emphasises that it is not proposing abolishing rights to light and “nor would we consider doing so”.

Proposals include:

  • the introduction of a new statutory test to clarify the current law on when courts may
  • order a person to pay damages instead of ordering that person to demolish or stop constructing a building that interferes with a right to light;
  • the introduction of a new statutory notice procedure, which requires those with the benefit of rights to light to make clear whether they intend to apply to the court for an injunction (ordering a neighbouring landowner not to build in a way that infringes their right to light), with the aim of introducing greater certainty into rights to light disputes; and 
  • that the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal should be able to extinguish rights to light that are obsolete or have no practical benefit, with payment of compensation in appropriate cases, as it can do under the present law in respect of restrictive covenants. 

To download the consultation paper, go to lawcommission.justice.gov.uk

Comments are invited by email by 16 May 2013 to: propertyandtrust@lawcommission.gsi.gov.uk or  by post to Nicholas Macklam, Law Commission, Steel House, 11 Tothill Street, London SW1H 9LJ.

For more information about rights to light, contact Paul Lovelock, Director at Watts Group PLC, on 020 7280 8136.

Do you think rights to light legislation needs to be amended? Let us know your thoughts on Watts’ Twitter page or become a member of the Watts Bulletin group on LinkedIn.

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The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.

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