Policy briefing: How will upgraded standard on natural light affect planning?

Planners will need a thorough understanding of tighter requirements in a new European standard, says Gregory Francis.

In the shade: new rules could have impacts on councils and applicants
In the shade: new rules could have impacts on councils and applicants

Q What does the current British standard say and how does it impact on planning? 

A When establishing adequacy of natural light provision, reference will typically be made to the British Standard BS8206-2:2008, a set of flexible recommendations regarding good practice for daylight design in buildings. The standard forms the basis for the government-endorsed BRE guidance on sunlight and daylight assessments for new developments, which local planning authorities and applicants most commonly use.

Q Why and how is a new European standard being introduced? 

Across Europe, there is a wide variety of approaches to evaluating natural light provision in new buildings. A new Europe-wide standard is set to be introduced, after the relevant standards bodies in various countries came together to produce a new version. The new standard is being introduced by the European Committee for Standardisation, which represents a number of national standards bodies across the continent.

It aims to agree a flexible common assessment approach, grounded in latest research that highlights the importance of natural light to health, wellbeing and sustainability. According to the UK’s national standards body, the British Standards Institution, it is due to be issued in this country by the summer and would supersede the current British standard. 

Q What changes would the new European standard introduce?

The new standard aims to achieve higher levels of health, wellbeing and sustainability in new developments. Based on the current draft, assessment methods would be more specific and targets would be more difficult to achieve.

The revised daylight assessment would be based on precise measurements, as opposed to the current average estimate. For sunlight, the current approach of estimating "probable" provision in new schemes would also be replaced by more precise assessments. In addition, the British standard now sets out only minimum recommendations for sunlight and daylight provision for habitable rooms only. By contrast, the new standard would introduce "minimum", "medium" and "high" recommendations, regardless of room type.

Q How would the new European standard impact on planning?

While the standard aims to significantly raise the "acceptability" of natural light provision, emerging policy seeks to define them more flexibly. Once adopted, planning applications would have to abide by the new standard’s recommendations, subject to how the standard is incorporated into national and local planning policy requirements.

In last year’s housing white paper, the government explicitly stated its intention to amend national planning guidance to find ways that "daylight considerations can be addressed in a pragmatic way that does not inhibit dense, high-quality development". If an appropriate balance is not struck between achieving high density and the new standard’s recommendations, this could create tensions. However, a fair compromise should be possible via careful design.

What implications could the new standard present to local authority planning teams?

The new standard needs to be borne in mind when making decisions that involve applying national and regional planning guidance on natural light and density. With the increased complexity surrounding the issue, local authority planners need to make sure they have a comprehensive understanding of the issue. This may involve enlisting the aid of a competent technical adviser to fully understand all the relevant factors.

What implications could it present to applicants?

Many building owners or occupiers consider sustainability, health, wellbeing and access to natural light as critically important. Therefore, if these goals are achieved, the new standard should assist with saleability and marketing. It will become even more important for developers to have access to expert advice as early in the design and planning process as possible.

First, they need to agree appropriate compliance with councils during the pre-application process to avoid potential uncertainty and delays later down the line. Secondly, they need to ensure that the design balances the aims of the new standard with delivering high-quality development of appropriate density.

Gregory Francis is an associate director at GVA Schatunowski Brooks


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