Law Commission to review rights to light

HEFCE has reported that, although the economic outlook for the HE sector is seen as being "sound overall", much depends on the sector continuing to attract student fee income. To maintain competitiveness, HEFCE anticipates that many HEIs may need to run down their surpluses in order to finance capital investment.

Against this backdrop, now might be the time to start giving thought to possible impediments to prospective development. One such impediment which we often see arising is rights to light. A right to light is an easement giving property owners a right to receive light passing over adjoining land to windows in buildings on their land. In urban areas this can cause a serious impediment to development, as any reasonably sized new building may cast a shadow over neighbouring properties and thereby create an actionable infringement in such rights. The problem is compounded by the fact that the existence of such rights is very often not noted on the legal title to land. As any party having the benefit of a right to light might in effect be given a ransom over the development of adjoining land, developers are often left with no choice but to pay off such parties, or simply cut back or halt their developments to avoid creating an infringement.

Having recognised the law in this area as being "flawed and at risk of creating confusion and injustice", the Law Commission is currently reviewing rights to light and plans to issue a consultation paper in early 2013. Some commentators fear that the Commission's review might ultimately fall down on this particular area of law proving too intractable to deal with. Nonetheless, we will await the consultation with interest and, in the meantime, would be very keen to hear your views on the subject- have you had experience of rights to light impacting on your developments? In light of the heightened importance of capital investment in the sector, is there a case to be made on behalf of HEIs as a whole once the consultation is issued?


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