Let there be light

19 April 2017

The WELL Building Standards list light as one of the 7 core central concepts, but how do the WELL standards sit with daylight & sunlight in the context of planning law and rights of light in general?

WELL Standards

The International WELL Buildings Institute have sought to create a comprehensive approach to health and well-being, identifying 7 key concepts which, in addition to light, include air, water, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind.  

Focusing on light, the WELL Building Standard provides "guidelines that minimise disruption to the body's circadian system, enhance productivity, support good sleep quality and provide appropriate visual acuity".  The WELL certification process will consider a building's internal lighting system, access to natural light, size of windows and reflectivity of surfaces within the building, amongst other factors.

Daylight & Sunlight Reports - Planning

Daylight, sunlight and overshadowing reports are used in the context of planning applications.  Whilst these report relate to light, they differ from rights of light in general, and the remedies available when they are infringed, which fall outside the planning process.  They are private rights and the planning system is more concerned with public interest.

For example, when a developer is seeking planning permission for a new tall building, the impact of the proposed development on the daylight and sunlight within the surrounding properties, and the extent to which the proposed building will overshadow them, will be considered as part of the planning process.  Most local planning authorities adopt the recommendations of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in determining those factors.  

However, regardless of daylight/sunlight tests having been met and the proposed development being approved through the planning process, neighbouring owners may still go after the developer if they suffer an infringement to their rights of light.

WELL Standards v Daylight/Sunlight & Rights of Light

The WELL Standards are commendable in seeking to improve the quality of, and access to, light in buildings, with the focus being the end users working inside that building.

In contrast, daylight & sunlight reports, together with rights of light in general, tend to focus on the impact to the neighbouring buildings surrounding the development, as opposed to the quality of light within the building being developed (although in some cases the planning authority will want to consider this too).

This raises a number of questions, the answers to which will become clearer as WELL Standards, in whole or part, are adopted more widely:

will WELL Standards start to be factored into the planning process and will planning authorities start to make it a condition that new developments comply with the WELL Standards (instead of or as well as BREEAM standards)?;

will planning authorities take into consideration situations where a proposed new development could damage the WELL Standard of a neighbouring building?;

will WELL accredited buildings be able to block proposed nearby developments if the new development will have such an impact on the daylight & sunlight in their building that they will lose their WELL accreditation?; and 

will further remedies become available for damages to WELL accreditation, in addition to general damages for rights of light infringements?

Whilst this may not happen immediately, with investors, developers and occupiers becoming more alive to the issues we look forward to seeing how WELL buildings fit in to the scope of planning and the world of rights of light in the future.  

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