Up into the light - Colliers International | London



  1. April 2018

  2. Up into the light

    10 April 2018
    As London struggles to achieve the necessary development density to accommodate thousands of new homes and also millions of square feet of commercial space, developers are looking to create bigger and taller buildings.
    Tall buildings cast long shadows and their development can trigger ‘Rights of Light’ issues – these are based on Ancient Lights Law which provides a long-standing owner of a building which has windows, skylights and glass roofs a right to maintain a sufficient level of illumination. Put simply, they can stop someone whacking up a skyscraper next door and blocking your source of natural daylight.

    Resolving potential ‘Rights to Light’ issues is something that developers must be aware of from the outset and address them immediately or they may find themselves sin breach of the law and facing costly legal action.

    ·         Start early: If you approach this early enough and the main Rights of Light constraints have been identified, a good surveyor will be able to create a 3D maximum envelope which will show the volume that can be built without impacting this legality and will be able to design steer your scheme in the right direction to ensure the appropriate strategy is put in place.

    ·         Aerial photography is not enough, get a survey done:  accurate assessment is essential. Where possible, we recommend basing your 3D modelling on a digital laser scans, not just aerial photogrammetry (making measurements from photographs). The latter bases its measurement from above so ledges, balconies, cornices and columns dictate the shape and size of the building. There have been previous legal cases where unnecessary amounts of compensation were paid out due to poor 3D modelling so ensure you do your homework and are receiving adequate counsel.

    ·         What are the Rights of Light positions surrounding your development? Generally speaking, windows, skylights and glass roofs in buildings where unobstructed light has not been an issue for at least 19 years and 1 day will have established a Right to Light, under Section 3 of the Prescription act 1832, (if you do something for long enough you earn the right to continue doing it). However, there are different methods of establishing rights and these privileges can also be removed. You should always seek legal professional advice on this, so you know the extent of your liability.

    ·         Be open to negotiations and consider insurance: Solutions to Rights of Light infringements might include cutting back or redesigning your scheme to reduce infringement to neighbours. However, if this cannot be avoided, you should be open to negotiate with them. There are insurance products these days that can allow you to start negotiations whilst still having a financial safety net in case they fall apart or become litigious. With proper strategy and advice from a specialist, you can mitigate cost and choose the best package for you.

    ·         Be considerate: If a Rights of Light agreement cannot be reached, be aware that the legal environment surrounding Rights of Light today is very much geared around the behaviour of the parties, particularly the developer. If you ever find yourself in court, this would be a major consideration in determining the outcome as you might find continued construction for your development being prevented, delayed or reduced in size, even if part of the scheme which is being cut back has already been let off-plan.

    As tall buildings proliferate around the capital – plans are even being mooted for multi-storey warehouses – Rights of Light issues are going to become more commonplace. If you don’t want your development to be overshadowed by a protracted legal wrangle, it’s best to tackle the problem as early as possible.


    Associate Director | Rights of Light & Daylight Sunlight Issues