Urban Civic Manchester New Square
The 351-apartment Simpson Haugh-designed scheme topped out last March

Manchester New Square in right to light dispute

Sarah Townsend

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.

 

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A friend of mine sold their flat opposite the site in 2017 for this very reason. I don’t know what the reality is, but we did a quick render & modelling from the architectural drawings for his, and his flat (which was on the 3rd floor opposite) went from good natural light to needing permanent artificial light for most of the year and total loss of privacy. MCC Planning should have insisted on multiple layered step-backs and re-orientation of windows, or insisted on an altered footprint, to deal with this.

He’d lived there for almost 15 years, and wouldn’t have moved otherwise.

By MancLad

Simpson Haugh and Manchester City council seem to work hand in hand on the majority of City Centre projects. Cannot imagine right of light was not discussed in early development plans and how residents’ objections could be overcome.

By Fidel

Another massive financial contribution to the back pocket of MCC planning system, they always find a way. The planning department needs fully addressing by someone high enough up to make a difference

By anon

A great looking development which has vastly improved the area. This was an unloved corner site in the city which attracted a lot of unsocial activity. It amazes me that residents are complaining, as this scheme is regenerating the location and increasing the values of nearby apartments. I would recommend that if Ms Wright wants privacy, she moves out of the city into the countryside. In the 25 years that she has lived there, Manchester has moved on and is recognised as a leading international city. Move on!

By Mr Jones

Well I used to live just around the corner and I’m glad I got out and moved – when I first saw proposals for the scheme I couldn’t believe they were going to build something so massive in that location….I’m not surprised they have no light. Wrong buildings in the wrong place.

By Manc Man

Whilst I wouldn’t be delighted at something being built outside my windows either, but if the resident has only got a view of bricks and wall then why is her privacy been lost?

By Harpsicord

The Right to Light will remain. The amount of compensation will be substantial, and once established it’s clear cut whether there was a CPO or no CPO. This could be a major scandal brewing, and this isn’t the only case that is about to come to court in Manchester. The bottom line is the council tax payer now on the hook, rather than the developer, to pay a possible multi-million pound bill to compensate those freeholders whose legal light they’ve taken? It looks like a clear cut case that they do have a right to light and there has to be compensation paid, there also remains the possibility that if no agreement is reached then the new development can be demolished by order of the court. caveat emptor. Expect to read a lot more about more such cases in the coming months if developers (or someone!) doesn’t pay their legal dues.

By Dr B

If you wanted light in your living room you would not buy it in manchester in the first place – so it’s a nonstarter really.

By L5 still alive

Who lives in a flat for 25 years? Surely she’s too old to live in the city now, should have a nice house st this point.

By Dan

I don’t understand how the residents can be surprised that at some point in the future, there would probably be another high rise development in the centre of Manchester. The resident has been lucky they have had 25 years of light, should have done there research.

By Phil McKrackin

I’d be surprised if the bars/clubs on Canal street didn’t have a say in this. The new building totally blocks sunlight, making the area feel a lot more gloomy.

By Superhans

It looks no different to St. Peter’s House (?) – the office block on the opposite corner to Midland Hotel/Oxford St.

By ChesneyT

Given that there was a large building there previously (albeit a long time ago) I would question whether the apartments opposite had gained any rights to light above what they had when the site was previously built upon. The empty state it was in was only temporary, people need to remember that.

By Bradford

Come on! Has nobody noticed before that builing tall blocks of offices and apartments only meters away from other blocks of offices and apartments means that the view out the window is of other offices and flats only meters away?

By James Yates

The new buildings don’t vary that much from what was there originally …. any light that was provided was clearly only going to be temporary until the site was built upon again …. anyone who bought overlooking the site must have been dim not to realise this

By Boom

I own an apartment facing the development that has seriously been affected by a reduction in light. The amount that we have been able to claim has been reduced by a third because of MCC’s involvement. On top of that, despite coming to an agreement (albeit for a reduced sum) the developer has dragged their heels with payment using COVID as an excuse when the rest of the world has managed to get things down by working from home. This has now been going on for some years. It is disappointing that Manchester City Council always seems to put residents last in any decision making process.

By Martin S

To Mr Jones comment. This is not a great looking development. In my eyes and others I have spojen to, it is ugly and looks more like an office block. It does nothing to enhance the area. Over 10 years ago residents were asked what they would want on this site. I don’t think many would have opted for what has risen up before us. It has spoiled my view which is over the courtyard opposite Bombay House. I wish it wasn’t there

By FWC

There have been tall proposals on this site since the early 2000s. The Origin proposals were tall. If you live on a busy City Centre street surely this sort of thing is to be expected? This amount of space between buildings is common in London and elsewhere in the world and the footprint is similar to the victorian buildings that were there before.

By Origin

I wonder how many of them are dreaming of a more calm and untroubled life? I can`t help but feel sorry for the people trapped in little boxes. It`s almost inhumane.

By Liverpool romance

Rights of light are no more archaic than rights of way or rights of support. Any sensible developer would take account of them at an early stage. See HKRUK II (CHC) Ltd v Heaney [2010] EWHC 2245 for a case where the claimant had cause to regret knowingly interfering with the defendant’s right to light and was ordered to embark on very costly works of reconstruction.

By Anon

Dear Mr Jones. You letter is downright insulting! Shame on you.

By James Yates

Some strange comments here. With this and the Krampus development up the street the whole area is over developed and an example of pure greed from developers. No reason for the scale of these poor quality schemes, the council shouldn’t be bending over to help rich developers reap profits and shaft ordinary people.

By Doris

Mr Yates – get real!! Living in in any city centre is fantastic offering so many benefits…nightlife on the doorstep, a community, no commute to work, the hustle and bustle of being part of city centre life. I fully accept that after 25 years, you may get tired of that lifestyle and may need to move out into the countryside for privacy and a more sedate way of life. As suggested earlier to the resident complaining about her lack of privacy, I would very simply and politely suggest she consider moving away from the City.

By Mr Jones

I think compensation is on the cards in a very limited fashion. I do like the ideas ^^ someone contributed earlier. Step back with the height also provision of green spaces and the ol chestnut OF BALCONIES. A medium sized balcony and access to the roof garden I consider essential. I thought that the idea was to make an amazing urban space to live. I also insist on underground metro. Trans Pennine tunnel >>Leeds and onto York, following on from the HS2 initial prop. HS to North Wales and of course same standard applies to connections to Liverpool and Sheffield. We need bike lanes that form a mass network including overheads. Collyhurst will be a real marker, can MCC deliver on huge scale development with +/-25% social housing and the necessary infrastructure, I know it includes 3 tall builds, tallest been 38 storys, again balconies and roof gardens (on lower levels obviously) and I guess its as much about the fabric imbertween. The ideas for the river Irk, red banks I think look good, there should always be space around the water with plenty of pedestrian and bike bridges. Ironic if these places become more desirable than the article examples.. ‘)

By Robert Fuller

Liverpool romance, I agree. Very distopian. Doesn’t have to be like that. What would Engels make of it. Maybe we need to go on some visits to Berlin for guidance. I think the North of England needs strategy (what those clowns call joined up thinking) The ports of Liverpool and Immingham with the business standing of M’cr,,, We need a new train freight system that also passes through and deals with Sheffield. The plans for the Humber region are to create a huge energy network of facilities. Hydrogen is a key component. The 3/4 big cities up hear need to work in unison,, world trade with a big airport connected to the 4 cities (freight expansion needs green light). I don’t see much sense of continuing the city centre high rise boom after the current jobs are finished by mid 2025. Attention is already on Ardwick and East Piccadilly for housing and commercial development, both areas in 15 years or so will be nice parts of the city centre like Angel meadow, Dantzig St in the North city and of course ever expanding through Salford…. Hope it all works out.

By Anonymous

Horrific development. Claustrophobic future slum.

By Luke

The comments about personal life choices are completely irrelevant in this discussion. The same way as someone makes a decision about a particular house/neighbourhood/plants in the garden the apartment residents choose their flats. I was really hoping for some better developments from developers and architects who are leading in the city. I’d hope that buyers will vote by not investing in these, but that can’t be prevented with investment from non-residents.

This scheme might be a learning curve for those looking into buying in historic buildings and conversions, probably we can expect a reduced interest in buying these. I will be sarcastic. Should we just leave the city centre flats to investors/AirB&B/students? Well then all nimbys should be worried about developing in the green belt, C&C will loose investors and the mcr council tax income will reduce even further… Someone should really step up their game or do we need another recession for that?

By CityCentreResident

As someone resident in the area for 20 years and overlooked the site until 2016 when we took the decision to move, I can assure anyone reading the article and comments above that rights to light were very much discussed with the developer of Origin (West Properties) and the U&C scheme going back into the last decade. As the article states the council’s decision to CPO was taken in full knowledge it was necessary to unlock the development site. I have no personal problem with that, but it doesn’t remove the necessity to negotiate compensation, which is the focus of the rights to light issue. It is depressing to read the issue will carry on for some time. I am not a legal expert but Anon’s comment on the legal case could give U&C pause for thought – or more likely MCC and taxpayers that will take the hit.

By granbymanc

If you buy a city centre apartment overlooking or next to a parcel of land earmarked for development then more the fool you.

By Big Dub

The residents want the compensation that they are legally entitled to – the legal rights that MCC took from them. Since this article went out a resident from a different development contacted me & stated that the same thing happened to them. 65 residents lost out – the developer made an extra £3 million. Wealth is not being distributed fairly.

By Blue Fairy

The comment on here from MrJones looks blatantly like a post from someone associated with the development. The site was previously sealed off, there was never any anti-social behaviour there. And the buildings they have put there are widely considered an already-dated, eyesore.

By ChrisB