Living in the light

Why daylight is a crucial consideration for any new building project

While human beings have evolved in myriad ways since our early ancestors, there’s one thing about the natural world that we haven’t left behind: daylight.
We divide our time according to the movement of the sun, rising when light appears and going to sleep when it’s gone. Even the advent of electricity, which has made light available 24/7, has prevented us from abandoning the natural daytime and inventing our own schedules (although certain adolescent sections of the population do prove the exception to this general rule…). In fact, sunlight is so important to people’s health and happiness, a lack of it can cause a disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (ironically shortened to SAD).

Clearly, natural light has a profound impact on our lives. So, it’s unsurprising that we want to spend our time in spaces that provide plenty of access to daylight. Whether it’s a home, an office, a school or a public building: if it lets the light in, it feels like a good place to be. This desire for sunlight is such a noted phenomenon that it has a tangible impact on house prices, with UK homebuyers spending an extra £4,786 to ensure their new house is as light as possible.

Of course, good light is about more than just creating a pleasant atmosphere. It can also affect the energy profile of a building. If people can work and read in a room just using the light coming in through the windows, then there’s less need for artificial lighting – resulting in a reduced energy demand.

So, natural sunlight can impact the desirability of a property from a commercial, aesthetic and environmental perspective. That makes it a seriously important factor to consider when you’re designing a new development. And it’s crucial that you think about sunlight from the outset of your project – when you fail to deal with light early and appropriately, it can become a highly contentious issue and threaten the whole viability of your development.

But how does sunlight become a potentially project-ending issue? Well, generally there are two perspectives on this kind of ‘right of light’ issue: one from a planning outlook, and the other from a legal standpoint.

Light from a planning perspective

First, the availability of daylight and sunlight are a material planning consideration. The decision on these matters would be in the course of the normal planning consent process.

There are many items that should be considered as part of the planning process, including the impact of your development on the availability of daylight in neighbouring properties, and the number of available annual sunlight hours on windows as well as amenity space such as gardens. The methodology for this is described in the publication BRE209, “Site layout planning for daylight and sunlight”, second edition by Paul Littlefair.

The legal right to light

According to the Prescription Act of 1832, one property may acquire a legal right to light over another. This right is distinct from planning considerations and disputes are a matter for court to decide – and often include financial contributions.

It’s also interesting to note that the right to light includes light from the sky only, and does not include a right to sunlight or a view.

Start with sunlight for project success

The availability of daylight is determined by pre-existing buildings, street architecture and other geographical features. There’s a lot that’s beyond your control – and that’s why you need to start considering daylight and sunlight early in the process.

At Planning for Sustainability, we’re on a mission to emphasise the importance of evaluating sunlight from the very beginning of your development project. That’s what this Sustainability report is all about: it highlights the opportunities and threats that sunlight issues pose to development projects just like yours.

By the end of this report, your client and design teams will be able to manage daylight risks appropriately – so all your development projects have a good chance of success.

It’s time to shed some light on this issue. So, let’s get started:Call us on 0207 112 7590 to ask for a fee proposal and out more about managing daylight in your development project or complete the form below..

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