First the right to lawful sports and pastimes, next the right to light. Where will the abolition of our ancient rights end?
Last Monday (18 February) the Law Commission, with ministers’ backing, began to consult about plans to axe people’s ancient entitlement to daylight in their own homes. Currently, if the light has been constant for at least 20 years, the occupier has gained a right to light, and can object to neighbouring developments or extensions which block that light.
This consultation has been provoked by a high court case in Leeds in 2010. Here, Alexander Heaney, owner of a grade II listed Victorian building, took the developer of a neighbouring property to court, after the property had been built, because it blocked his light. The judges ordered the demolition of the top storeys.
Part of the driving force behind the consultation paper is ‘to ensure that rights to light do not act as an unnecessary constraint on development’, or that landowners can use the right to light vexatiously to prevent or delay development.
These are exactly the same motives as those behind clause 14 of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which threatens to prevent people from registering land as greens, even where they have evidence of 20 years use for recreation, if the land is earmarked for development. See here. The government has little evidence that greens are being registered vexatiously; it just finds them inconvenient.
In both cases the rights are ancient. If you can prove 20 years enjoyment of light, or of land for recreation, you obtain the right to enjoy them under the law of prescription, an important tenet of the English and Welsh legal systems.
But because these ancient laws apparently stand in the way of development, this government will abolish them.