The recent Rights to Light Consultation which ended on the 16th may, looks like a major missed opportunity. The aim of the consultation, organised by the Law Commission, is to simplify the legislation relating to Rights of Light with the aim of reducing uncertainty in development.
Whilst this is a positive step, there is a much wider question about the definition of Rights to Light and whether the current legislation is the best way of dealing of the issue in the first place. In the UK we have a peculiar way of dealing with some fundamental issues and daylight seems to me to be about as fundamental an issue as there can be.
The consultation crucially asks whether Rights to Light are still relevant in a country where planning legislation protects against poor design.
“rights to light evolved long before the state became involved in regulating
the built environment. Before the introduction of town and country planning
controls, and before the widespread use of artificial light, rights to light provided a
mechanism to protect homes and businesses against over intrusive development.
This function is now controlled through the planning policy and legislative
framework; we noted in Chapter 2 that planning policies generally protect the light
and amenity of residential owners. It is therefore arguable that rights to light are
no longer a legitimate way of controlling how land is used.”
What is interesting here is that the current guidance on the amount of light that ought to be available in new dwellings does not set any prescriptive levels. There is no regulation, other than the guidance which uses words like ‘sufficient’ ‘enjoy’ in the most popular guidance written by Littlefair at the BRE. Even Part L only mentions that if walls are glazed to less than 20% of the floor area, the occupants will increase their use of electric light to compensate, and this is in the section relating to extensions.
The Code for Sustainable Homes goes further by rewarding a kitchen that achieves a 2% Daylight Factor or living rooms, dining rooms and studies with 1.5% Daylight Factor. This credit is not mandatory and not all homes that meet the Code requirements will meet these standards and the number of homes built to meet this standard is low compared to the total number of homes built in the UK.
There is a growing body of evidence that both daylight and sunlight are very important to our health as human beings, in terms of both our mental health and our physical health. We all have a right to light and to sunlight, and it goes much further and deeper than a legal easement over a property acquired over a period of twenty years.
See this report on the health and well-being benefits of windows in residential buildings; it discusses issues such as the lack of daylight that many of us in industrialised countries suffer from, as well as the surfeit of artificial light and the damage that is doing to us. Daylight is a complex issue, it is too complex and important for its regulation to be left to lawyers, architects and planners, it needs the involvement of physical health and mental health professionals too. Without proper regulation there is no protection for the occupants of our buildings from poor design that sets no real targets for daylight. It suffers from being free so we think that we can ignore it, and we only notice it when it’s not there.