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My neigh­bour ob­tained plan­ning per­mis­sion for a fire es­cape on the first floor of his house af­ter con­vert­ing his loft and build­ing a flat-roof ex­ten­sion on the ground floor. I had con­cerns that this fire es­cape would be used as a sun-bathing area and voiced my con­cerns to a rather in­dig­nant plan­ning of­fi­cer who as­sured me it would not and that it was there to be used solely in an emer­gency.

How­ever, my neigh­bour uses it as a bal­cony. This blocks out a large amount of light and not only has a view over my pa­tio but also looks di­rectly into my bath­room.

Can I do any­thing about it?

David Flem­ing writes:

There are two sep­a­rate is­sues here. If the pres­ence of the fire es­cape/bal­cony blocks your light, it is the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble that you would have a claim against your neigh­bour for breach of a right to light. Usu­ally it is pos­si­ble to es­tab­lish such a right from 20 years’ long use by your­self and your pre­de­ces­sors.

How­ever, right-to-light cases are rarely brought for two rea­sons. First, it is not suf­fi­cient to show that you are en­joy­ing less light than you did be­fore. You have to prove that the amount of light re­main­ing is in­suf­fi­cient for nor­mal uses of the rooms af­fected. Fur­ther­more, it is in­vari­ably nec­es­sary to in­struct an ex­pert to pre­pare a re­port on the loss of light, which makes such cases ex­pen­sive. I do not be­lieve you would have any claim against your neigh­bour aris­ing from their sun­bathing on the fire es­cape. This would not be con­sid­ered an ac­tion­able “nui­sance”.

On the other hand, if it is a con­di­tion of the plan­ning per­mis­sion that the fire es­cape should be used for that pur­pose only, the plan­ning author­ity has pow­ers to serve what is known as an en­force­ment no­tice on your neigh­bours, pre­vent­ing them from us­ing it for any other pur­pose. If such a no­tice were served and they con­tin­ued to use the fire es­cape for sun­bathing, this would be a crim­i­nal of­fence. Ac­cord­ingly, I sug­gest you re­fer the mat­ter to your lo­cal plan­ning de­part­ment and en­cour­age them to take the nec­es­sary ac­tion.

David Flem­ing is head of prop­erty lit­i­ga­tion at William Heath & Co.

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