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Shedding light on new developments

The Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) guidance on daylight and sunlight amenity has now been updated – twenty years after it was first published.

BRE Report 209: ‘Site layout planning for daylight and sunlight: A guide to good practice’ has been comprehensively updated and was published this autumn. This, together with BS 8206-2 (Code of Practice for Daylighting), is a key tool, helping architects, designers, planning consultants and local authorities to consider daylight and sunlight amenity for any development.

The first point to note is that daylight and sunlight amenity should not be confused with rights to light. The two subjects are different legally and technically and they should not be seen as one and the same. A scheme which satisfies planning on daylight and sunlight grounds may still have rights to light issues to resolve.

Daylight and sunlight amenity studies are usually requested by local planning authorities to consider the effect of a proposed development on surrounding properties or to look at the levels of daylight and sunlight within a proposal itself. The local authority’s requirements for considering daylight and sunlight amenity should be outlined in their Unitary Development Plan (UDP) although the requirements will differ slightly from one local authority to another.

Increasingly local authorities, who in the past may have not considered daylight and sunlight amenity studies mandatory, are requesting their inclusion in a planning submission. As our towns and cities develop, it becomes increasingly challenging to rigidly satisfy the guidelines. Often the fact that the BRE Report is a set of guidelines which tell us to exercise flexibility, is something that planning officers sometimes need reminding of.

The new document definitely represents a shift towards reliance on using complex 3D computer models and outlines a variety of assessments. Variable data such as the inclusion of trees into the analysis will be a challenge for the industry. It is in less built up areas that trees will be more common compared to city centres where the request for a technical review is more likely. Unfortunately with any process that becomes more complex, the time necessary to compile a study is likely to take longer and add costs.

One notable change in the new guidance is the emphasis away from low rise suburban environments, which were difficult to translate into the more typical dense urban and inner city scenarios to which the guidance is more usually applied. This change is welcomed and, together with the recommendation of flexible interpretation, gives a sense of fairness and balance.

There will undoubtedly be a settling in period while the industry adapts software programmes and practice techniques to get to grips with the subtleties of the new guidance, which now supersedes the previous edition. Local planning authorities will need to appreciate and recognise this.

The recommendation for addressing daylight and sunlight amenity for any scheme from a developer’s perspective could not be more straightforward – recognising the benefit of getting the right professional advice early on in a project is key to avoiding issues later on when a project has reached a critical stage.

For more information, contact Daniel Tapscott, Director at Watts Group PLC on 0117 927 5800.

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