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Planning Factsheet: Overshadowing

Sometimes people fear they may suffer a loss of daylight or sunlight if their homes and gardens are overshadowed by new development. Because of the need to remain impartial in planning cases, Communities and Local Government does not provide legal advice. Nor can we intervene in, or comment on, your council's handling of a planning case that may lead to overshadowing. However, we hope the following general responses to common queries about overshadowing will be helpful.

My home will be deprived of light if a proposed development gets permission...

When a planning application is submitted, everyone is entitled to comment. The council puts the application and the plans on its Planning Register. You have a right to inspect the Register at the planning department and, in some places, on the council's website. If objecting, make sure your comments relate to planning. For example, would next door's extension be so large that other residents in the neighbourhood would find it obtrusive?

The role of the planning system is to protect amenity and the environment as seen from the point of view of the broader public interest. One important source of guidance to planners is the council's development plan. Look at the Local Plan to see what it says about overshadowing. You can ask to see plan policies at the planning department, or check out the council's website. If likely to be helpful in your situation, you could mention the plan policy - or any design guidelines linked to the plan - when commenting on a planning proposal that could take a significant amount of light away from your home. The council would have to give that policy all due weight when reaching its decision. Only where there are compelling reasons to do so would the council diverge from its own plan policies.

By contrast, the council will generally not be able to take account of objections which relate only to someone's private interests as a property owner. For example, there would be no point in complaining that the financial value of your home could go down if a particular proposal goes ahead. The council knows that a decision not based on planning considerations could be open to appeal by a disappointed applicant, and ultimately could be challenged in the courts.

Doesn't the law lay down minimum distances between buildings, or acceptable angles of shadow?

No. Houses, flats and gardens tend to be all shapes and sizes, at different distances from, and in a unique orientation to, any neighbouring buildings. Housing land is scarce and valuable. No practical, reasonable and enforceable design standards have been devised which would allow the full use of land while guaranteeing retention of all daylight for every householder.

Where there is a planning application to assess, securing a reasonable degree of daylight for everyone is a task for the expertise and judgement of each local planning authority. Where 'permitted development' may be carried out, the limits in force are intended to reduce the likelihood of overshadowing.

Under 'permitted development' rules, my neighbours can build their extension and I have no chance to object

In the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order, Parliament grants a general planning permission for various minor alterations to houses and garden buildings, removing the need to apply to the council. It allows people a reasonable degree of freedom to make the most of their properties, whilst relieving the council of the burden of a large number of unnecessary planning applications. The rights to add extensions or put up garden buildings are subject to various limits and conditions. For more details see the booklet Planning: A Guide for Householders.

Surely I have a right to light?

For rights to be enforceable, they have to exist. A right to light will come into existence if it has been enjoyed uninterrupted for 20 years or more, granted by deed, or registered under the Rights of Light Act 1959. Planning permission does not override a legal right to light.

Where a right to light is claimed, this is a matter of property law, rather than planning law. The local planning authority will have no role or interest in any private dispute arising. It would be for the owner or occupier affected to see if a legal remedy would be available. If an injunction can be obtained, it might be possible to prevent someone proceeding with works, even if the works had both planning permission and approval under the Building Regulations. Otherwise, courts may direct that compensation be paid.

If you feel your property has private rights which may be infringed, it is best to seek your own legal advice as soon as possible. Each case has different facts and different chances of success. You should also see a lawyer if you think your Human Rights have been breached.

By the way, it is the Department for Constitutional Affairs which has overall policy responsibility for the Rights of Light Act.

Has any guidance been published?

  • The document The Planning System: General Principles, published in conjunction with Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development, explains: 'The planning system does not exist to protect the private interests of one person against the activities of another, although private interests may coincide with the public interest in some cases... The basic question is... whether the proposal would unacceptably affect amenities and the existing use of land and buildings which ought to be protected in the public interest.
  • Although not Government guidance, you may find BRE's leaflet Site Layout Planning for Daylight helpful. It is by P J Littlefair, and contains useful diagrams. Telephone 020 7505 6622 if you wish to purchase a copy.

Why not check out the Planning Portal (external link) for more useful advice on planning topics. The Planning Department of your District, Borough or City Council may be able to help with any further questions you have on the planning aspects of overshadowing.

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