The Law Commission’s review of rights to light is now almost eight years old, yet there has been no sign of a government response. Reform remains a question of when not if, and as the political merry-go-round spins again, it now seems even further out of reach.
In the intervening years, the market has changed considerably. Most critically, we have seen the emergence of a new breed of rights-to-light ‘ambulance chasers’, who have engineered an increasingly litigious environment between neighbours – both residential and commercial.
Spurred on by a residential market that has seen more people staying at and working from home for longer – and, therefore, realising and benefiting from their property’s rights to light – these new firms typically identify a proposed development then approach the neighbours on a targeted basis, usually on a no-win-no-fee basis.
There are, of course, many genuine concerns that people rightfully raise. However, mass claims can have a detrimental effect, such as raising insurance premiums. These added costs can threaten the viability of development – a worrying prospect, especially given the widespread need in the UK for new residential stock in particular. Furthermore, these types of claim rarely consider the increased values that sensible, sustainable development provides.
This trend has led to a real need for developers to consider rights to light early on, assessing and mapping potential risks so that any future claims can be effectively mitigated. This has led to a resurgence of the rights-to-light professional as development counsel advising, overseeing and implementing negotiations with neighbouring property owners and their representatives.
But still more can be done to bring the industry out of the shadows. Particularly in the absence of sensible policy change, it is vital that practitioners come together to support and educate one another and the next generation of professionals entering the field.
The risk of not doing so is plain: more claims and expensive litigation, rising costs and stymied development.
Dan Tapscott is partner at planning consultancy Rapleys and founder of Light Knights
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