The Right to Light
The UK's Law Commission plans to abolish the 'Right to Light' could make installing solar photovoltaic panels pointless.
We all need a bit of sunshine but those of us who use photovoltaic panels rely on it a bit more. With the new proposal to abolish the right to light that usually prevents obstructing buildings, there would be no protection against loss of natural light.
The right to light is gained automatically after 20 years but there is currently no protection for people who use photovoltaic panels. If the right to light is abolished there is even less chance of protection. The photovoltaic panels rely on sunlight to produce electricity that is then sold to the grid. The panels help to reduce a homes carbon footprint and also help to supply electricity to the grid. This is very important, especially at present, as ageing power stations are closing which means higher energy bills and a reduced energy supply.
The Law Commission, a non-department body of the Justice Department, propose to abolish this right to light, which could mean thousands across the country lose natural light in their homes, and for those with solar panels, their investments would be pointless and worthless.
The Right to Light is based on a law that gives the long-standing owner of a building with windows, the right to maintain the level of natural light. This has been in place since the 1832 Prescription Act, and prevents neighbours from building light restricting extensions.
The interest in reforming the law has come since the High Court ordered partial demolition of a building in the city centre of Leeds. Alexander Heaney, the owner of a Grade II-listed Victorian building, objected to development plans of the neighbouring building stating that it would obstruct his daylight. The developers continued building and so Mr Heaney took them to court. He won in September 2010 and the top storeys responsible for the loss of light were demolished.
The Law Commission released a consultation paper in February presenting arguments for both abolishing the law and keeping it. From this they have concluded: "In this specific context, in which rights to light frequently arise without anyone knowing about it and result in disputes between neighbours, the arguments are stronger for the abolition of this method of acquisition for the future than they are for retention."
The question is, if the abolition of the Right to Light did occur, would the new laws take in to account people's investments in their solar panels when considering payouts for damages?
The consultation paper was released on February 18th 2013 and the Law Commission are inviting people to comment on the issues. The closing date for comments is May 16th 2013. As part of the paper, The Law Commission propose a new statutory test to clarify the current law on when courts could order a person to pay damages to the neighbour losing light, rather than demolish or stop construction of the building that is interfering with the right to light. They also propose a new procedure that will make neighbours with the right to light, to make it clear within a specified time that they will seek an injunction to protect their rights, preventing the build.
Send comments on the consultation paper to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Nicholas Macklam, Law Commission, Steel House, 11 Tothill Street, London SW1H 9LJ.