Residents living close to the £83m apartment scheme have claimed it infringes their ‘right to light’, a strand of property law that gives an owner of a building with windows the right to a certain level of illumination.
Manchester New Square, a project by developer Urban & Civic, is close to completion having topped out last March. The scheme comprises 351 apartments in three blocks ranging in height from 12 to 15 storeys, on the corner of Princess Street and Whitworth Street in the city centre. The scheme was designed by SimpsonHaugh architects.
A group of residents of neighbouring buildings has issued a statement claiming the scheme violates their right to light, and that the use of statutory powers by Manchester City Council in 2017 to help bring forward the scheme took away their ability to enforce their legal right through the use of an injunction to block the scheme’s development.
One local resident, Victoria Wright, said: “My flat where I have lived for 25 years has become much darker, noisier and completely overlooked by flats merely metres away.
“Through my windows, I can see only bricks and wall and I have completely lost any privacy I had.”
Wright said that, because the council took over the freehold of the New Square site through the planning process, she lost her right to prevent the scheme going forward, and to claim sufficient financial compensation. The statement from the group of residents said: “[We] are dismayed that in 2017, Manchester City Council invoked planning laws that potentially violated our rights to light.
“By…exercising section 227 of the Town & Country Planning Act, the city council was then enabled to use Section 203 powers, which override a neighbour’s normal rights to potentially seek an injunction in relation to legal rights of light injuries, or to robustly negotiate compensation in lieu of an injunction.
“Locals feel their rights have been diminished.” S203 powers allow a local planning authority to effectively bring through forward a development even if there are protected rights associated with it.
The residents’ statement cited a 2018 council report that pre-empts right to light issues, stating that “due to possible injunctions from neighbours due to restrictive covenants and rights to light…the interference with the relevant rights or interests” is necessary to bring forward the development.”
The council approved the use of the S203 powers on the grounds that “the development will contribute positively to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area,” according to the report. Urban & Civic subsequently took over the leasehold of the site and commenced delivery of the scheme.
Urban & Civic declined to comment on the matter. A spokesperson for Manchester City Council told Place North West that the developer and owners of neighbouring properties with rights affected by the scheme are in “ongoing” negotiations to reach a financial settlement as compensation for any breach – albeit wholly legal – of their rights.
“The council is continuing to encourage the developer to progress negotiations with all affected parties to agree a compensation package and reach a settlement in due course.”
The spokesperson added that the council exercised its statutory legal right to enact a CPO to acquire the New Square site, even if this removed the neighbours’ right to light, and “is satisfied that it has given full consideration to all relevant matters”.
“There must be a balancing exercise between the public interest and the individual’s rights that takes all relevant circumstances into account,” it said. “In this case, the council is satisfied that actions taken are proportionate in the circumstances.”
The spokesperson added: “The Manchester New Square site is a large development site that had lain vacant, partly developed and boarded for nearly a decade due to the recession in 2008.
“While major development has been taking place across the city, the council has faced significant criticism that it had not acted sooner to bring this site forward in such a key regeneration area of the city centre.
“National planning legislation provides a statutory power by which development on council-owned land may take place, notwithstanding the existence of certain rights, restrictions and easements that would otherwise prevent the development proceeding.
“The power contained in Section 203 does not remove the legitimate rights of those persons who have the benefit of an easement, in this case rights to light, or other rights and restrictions in respect of their property.
“However, it converts that right, restriction or easement to a right to compensation from the developer arising from the interference with such rights.”
The development “supports the overarching regeneration priorities of the council”, in particular the core principle of building more homes in line with the citywide growth strategy, the spokesperson added.
The negotiations between Urban & Civic and neighbouring residents are not delaying or otherwise disrupting the scheme’s completion and operation.