Developers will welcome a Supreme Court decision which makes it less likely neighbouring landowners can stop developments that breach rights to light, but allows developers to pay damages instead.
Developers who commit a nuisance by blocking neighbours’ light have traditionally suffered because of the courts’ rigid adherence to a long-standing legal ruling that objectors in such circumstances are entitled to an injunction stopping the development, rather than the developer being able to compensate them in damages. The only exception is if:
• the injury is small;
• the injury is capable of being estimated in money;
• the injury can be compensated by a small money payment;
• it would be oppressive to the developer to grant an injunction.
However, the Supreme Court has ruled that the previous legal decision has been too strictly applied and the courts should be much more flexible. The effect is that the decision whether to stop a development or require the developer to pay damages is now much more down to the court’s discretion – the court no longer has to slavishly follow the four-part test above.
The courts could, for example, take account of the way the developer has behaved, the public interest in the development and the existence of any planning permission for the development – although planning permission is not sufficient in itself.
Developers who have decided not to go ahead with developments that may affect rights of light may now be able to proceed, subject to paying damages for nuisance (for which they can budget), as the risk that a neighbouring landowner can stop the development has reduced.
Case refs: Coventry v. Lawrence  UKSC 13
Shelfer v. City of London Electric Lighting Co  1 CH 287
Alex Cook is a Director at Helix. Alex initially trained academically as an unregistered barrister and was a Partner and Head of Civil Litigation at a large firm based in the South East before joining Helix Law. As well as focussing on expanding Helix, Alex specialises in commercial and property related litigation and he has acted for a broad range of clients including offshore property investment funds, small businesses and individual property owners.
This article is written to raise awareness of the issues it discusses and it may not be updated after it is first written, even if the law changes. It is not intended to be legal advice and cannot be relied on as such. Helix Law is not responsible or liable for any action taken or not taken as a result of this article. If you think the matters set out affect you and you wish to apply them to your particular circumstances then we are happy to give you free initial telephone advice.