The legal right to solar access

Even an award-winning home can have issues with overshadowing

Put simply, solar access is the availability of sunlight to a property. For architects, the need to consider solar access in the overall design of a structure is two-fold:

Firstly, the structure must be designed and situated on the property to capture as much sunlight as required by the nature of the structure – particularly structures designed with passive solar techniques – to fit any applicable design brief and to comply with all development controls for the property required by the relevant consent authorities.

Secondly, a building’s height and its location on the property should not overshadow the living spaces and solar collectors of neighbouring properties, particularly to the south. The extent to which this tension requires compromise on the part of the architect of the new structure, and the owners and/or occupiers of the properties that may experience a decrease in their solar access, has not yet been adequately addressed by national, state or territory development control schemes nor by local development consent authorities such as councils.

It is this tension, and the specific principles in statutory and common law, that this article seeks to address for the benefit of architects designing new structures and those considering alterations and additions, particularly if passive solar design principles, such as thermal mass, are to be emphasised and solar collectors are to be fully utilised.

This note updates EDG 68 AB 'The legal right to solar access' by Adrian Bradbrook.

note summary
  1. The need for solar access
  2. Legal protection for solar access
  3. Dispute resolution
  4. Future developments in solar access law
  5. Conclusion and recommendations
  6. Appendix: Recent decisions of courts and tribunals