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The Facts of Light or many of us, whether or not the sunlight is streaming through the windows in the morning may be the first thing we look for on rising, and our attitudes to the day ahead may be formed in that first moment. English Law has long protected a property’s right to continue to receive the natural light it has enjoyed over a sufficient period of time, or which it has been specifically granted. Under common law, in the Prescription Act 1832, where a window or opening (but not a garden!) has enjoyed a minimum of 20 years of unobstructed daylight, as of right, then it has forever afterwards a Right of Light. Such a right is an overriding interest, not dependant on registration on title deeds – and as such the potential right lurks in wait for any unsuspecting or unenquiring developer, from a huge housing estate to the neighbour building a kitchen extension! Should your property have a right to light (and this needs to be checked because this right might have been specifically excluded when the property was first sold), and a neighbour proposes to build – be it an extension, garden wall or potting shed – which will diminish the amount of light enjoyed through your window or door, you may well be entitled to prevent him building at all. You could also succeed in getting him to take down anything already built, or to build in such a way as to not interfere with your light at all or to a lesser extent than originally proposed.


Damages also may be appropriate as compensation. As always, it is not as simple as it appears at first. The right is not to always have the same amount of light as presently enjoyed, for ever and ever, but to have “sufficient light according to the ordinary notions of mankind” as it was put in a 1904 case. The passage of time and changes in society will allow for a change in perceptions as to what is sufficient according to “ordinary notions”. Different buildings, in different areas, being put to different uses, will all have their own definition of what amount of light is appropriate. In the 1920s a particular formula was adopted which could be calculated comparing the area receiving the light with the strength of the light received, and so long as a sufficient ‘illuminance’ for reading and other similar activities was left, then it could be said that any proposed development did not detract from the light which the property received. Reference is sometimes made to the 45 degree rule, although this is a planning rather than a legal measurement. This involves projecting a line at a 45 degree angle from the window sill likely to be affected towards the proposed extension. If the extension stands taller than this line, then the Planning Authority is likely to reject the application. However, some small developments do not require planning permission so that the application of this rule may never be put into operation before

The South Devon Law Firm

building work starts. The experts today work on a 50:50 rule. Each part of a room is considered to be adequately lit if it can receive 0.2% of the total illumination received from the sky. If a proposed development will reduce the area of a room which is adequately lit to below 50% of the total area of the room, then the development can be said to be causing injury and interfering with the Right to Light. It is clearly an area fraught with difficulty, but with proper and early consultation, both with the experts and your neighbours, whether you are the builder or the potentially injured party, difficulties, damages and costs can be minimised. Nigel Wilkie, Associate Solicitor Hooper & Wollen, Paignton Office Readers should consult professional advisers before acting upon the issues raised in this article. If you would like further advice regarding any of the issues raised please contact Nigel Wilkie at Hooper & Wollen Solicitors in Torquay 01803 213251 or e-mail

Carlton House, 30 The Terrace, Torquay, TQ1 1BS Telephone 01803 213251 10 The Quay, Dartmouth, TQ6 9PT Tel 01803 832191 Belgrave House, 2 Winner Street, Paignton, TQ3 3BJ Tel 01803 521692


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