Can we shed light on reform of rights to light?

The AJ and BD have virtually identical headlines on the proposed reforms to rights of light. ‘Architects welcome right to light move’ says the former, while the latter goes for ‘Architects hail light laws reform’. But BD is intriguing. Its story is on page 3, and opposite on page 2 is its second leader. Its headline is ‘Don’t put out the light in our cities’ and it argues that ‘Changing the light legislation is a threat to the renaissance of Britain’s urban centres’.

Why such diverging views? The legislation, dating back to 1832, is over 180 years old. It predates the electric light, and refers to very different cities from those that we have today. the news story quotes Andrew Beharell of architect Pollard Thomas Edwards, well know for its housing, saying, ‘We know of projects which have suffered years of delay because adjoining owners have known how to manipulate the system, not for the legitimate protection of the enjoyment of their properties, but in order to negotiate large cash settlements.’

So why the opposition? The concern is that we may lose not only tiresome red tape but the spirit of the regulations – and those were to protect a fundamental human right and pleasure. We all want light in our buildings. We know how important daylight is to our well-being, and how much we want to be able to see out. The technology of artificial lighting is advancing rapidly, but it will never be a substitute for the real thing. Increasingly we are keeping light out deliberately to avoid overheating – but we want as much ‘good light’ as possible.

When we talk about the needs to densify our cities, I always agree, but find myself whispering under my breath ‘but not to Victorian levels’. Of course some of the worst of the rookeries, where the poor lived in overcrowded, insanitary and dark conditions, were created after the rights to light were introduced. Sometimes we have to have faith in the spirit not the letter of the law. But how many of us are confident doing that today?







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