Q: Is there a legal basis of a “right to light” that may be blocked by adjacent trees?
We are a small development of 22 flats set in what was the copse of an old manor house. Our grounds are surrounded on two side by trees both in our grounds and outside our boundary which act as a barrier from the road for us and is part of the street scene outside. The majority of the trees in our grounds are subject to Tree Preservation Orders and every couple of years or so we apply to our local authority for planning permission to maintain the trees.
A few years ago the area in which we live was designated a Conservation area so now we not only have to apply for planning consent to have tree works on the trees covered by TPOs we also have to apply for any tree work under the Conservation Order.
We have four blocks, three of two floors, ground and first, and one block which is in the wooded area of our grounds, has three floors, ground first and second. The leaseholders who live on the top floor of this block have asked for the trees surrounding them to be reduced in height to allow more light into their apartments.
Our local authority trees officer is of the view that the trees are healthy and form part of the conservation area/character and street scene and are not in need of reduction. The tree officer maintains the “right to light” is a factor that does not come into the decision making when considering applications for reducing trees.
Are you able to advise me on this matter? I would be most grateful to know our legal position, particularly as I have arranged a site meeting with all parties concerned.
FPRA Hon Consultant Yashmin Mistry replies:
I am not a right to light specialist but my basic knowledge is as follows:
- There must be a specific right so that light is claimed for particular windows or skylights and there cannot be a general claim for light over the whole piece of land. Having reviewed the lease however I cannot see any specific rights to light to specific windows in the leases.
- The amount of light which one can claim is that which is necessary according to the ordinary notions of mankind. Thus this right would be infringed where the light so obstructed that in a dwelling the electric light had to be lit all day.
- A mere diminution in the light is not sufficient.
I know of no law that gives a legal right to light (where obstructed by trees) and can’t possibly conceive there would be such a law. If there were, no doubt the councils would all be bankrupt from paying out!
There are rights enabling an owner to cut back parts of a tree that over hang your land there are liabilities should an owners tree cause structural damage to a neighbour’s properties.
[Submitted November 2016]