Don’t let the developers take your last civil right – the right to light

Plus: The nonchalance of bus passengers and their furry animal hats

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A year or so ago I had the dubious honour of receiving members of the council planning committee at home.

They’d come to look through our windows to judge how far our light would be affected by plans to replace the adjacent offices with a block of flats three storeys higher – higher not just than the offices but than the existing restrictions for the area.

The reason they came in person is that the right to light – a right that dates from the 17th century – is one of the few grounds on which residents can object effectively to new developments. You can protest against the style, or the use, or the noise, or the extra traffic a new building might bring. But none of that is a showstopper. Your right to light is – which is why, when I read a small, understated news report saying it was being challenged that I (1) jumped out of my skin and (2) felt all my fury against the new block, now being built, rekindled.

The Law Commission, it turns out, has begun a consultation into whether this last bulwark of the “little person’s” right to enjoy their  home should be kept, the right to see the same little bit of sky you thought you had bought with your flat. Big developers blame it – as they would – for stalling the urban housebuilding that is so desperately needed. Their argument is that they have to build higher to reap the returns that make a project worthwhile. 

My argument is that the less light you have, the more precious it is and the more legal safeguards it deserves. Those who have successfully claimed the right to “ancient lights” down the years, understood this in a way today’s development-hungry councils do not. Maybe they all live in houses with gardens. Or maybe they just don’t notice when the sun comes out.

The regrettable fact is that the right to light has already been eroded by the experts whom construction companies retain to “prove” that their developments are within the law. The application for the block outside our windows included a whole volume of calculations designed to show that any loss of light was negligible. I’m not against tall buildings as such, even tall buildings in my sightline. But let them be designed in a way that our light is either not worsened or, dare I say, improved. Unfortunately, councils lack imag-ination and developers can’t cram in so many flats that way. Fellow light-lovers – aux barricades.

Lions and tigers and bears... 

During the recent cold spell, you must have noticed all those people, old enough to know better, sporting furry animal hats. In fact, this is the least of it. Shortly before Christmas a tiger got on my bus. He had his tail trailed casually over his front paw and he was carrying his head – but otherwise, he was a tiger. I’ve shared Tube carriages with grizzly bears and with adult angels, their wings tall enough to brush the roof.

But this week, a sight capped them all – a man in a wolf hat that was real wolf, with the pelt and tail draped down his back. The strange thing about all these spectacles is that not one of my fellow passengers gave them a second glance, either to smile or roll their eyes. Either this is proof positive of the Great British phlegm – or, well, the cold has got to my brain.