The Law Commission's final report on the "right to light" will be of interest to everyone from residential property owners faced with a possible extension of their neighbour's house to developers seeking to construct new buildings in a crowded town centre.
There is always a tension between the proper protection of an individual's established access to sufficient light and the sensitive and sensible modernisation of our urban spaces in a growing economy.
The current law is often not helpful in achieving swift and cost-effective settlement between parties. Proposed developments can be held back unnecessarily. Or perhaps more seriously, building works proceed only to be challenged at a later point with potentially calamitous consequences.
It is to be hoped that the Law Commission's proposals will be enacted without undue delay to bring more clarity to this issue.
Litigation over the so-called 'right to light' could be reduced by law reforms, according to the Law Commission. In the final report of a study begun in 2012, the commission pulls back from an earlier proposal to abolish the informal acquisition of rights to light by prescription. Instead it recommends reforming the general law of prescription and updating the procedure that enables landowners to prevent neighbours from acquiring such rights. Rights to light are private property rights that benefit both residential and commercial buildings. They are not part of planning law, but settlement of them can add to the cost and complexity of developments, especially in areas such as the City of London. Under current law there is no time limit for a neighbour to claim that their right to light would be infringed by a development.