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'Walkie Talkie' backers want tower protected from light blocking claims

City of London corporation will decide next Wednesday whether to protect the 37-storey tower from 'rights-of-light' claims

Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group have asked the City of London Corporation to use special powers to ensure its "Walkie Talkie" development can go ahead.

The corporation's planning committee will decide next Wednesday whether to protect the 37-storey tower at 20 Fenchurch Street from "rights-of-light" claims that could endanger the development, which is under construction and due to be completed in 2014.

Rights of light have become a contentious issue following the recent Heaney case in Leeds, where a court ordered a mandatory injunction, rather than damages, to remove part of the top two floors of a recently completed office block as they interfered with a right of light enjoyed by a neighbouring office building. The case was expected to set a legal precedent, but was settled out of court in March before reaching the court of appeal.

"Rights of light are a big issue after the Heaney case. The implication is that people could get an injunction and tear your building down," said James Abott, a corporation spokesman.

Donal McCabe, a spokesman for Land Securities, said: "When we got planning consent on 20 Fenchurch Street in 2009, we did quite a lot on resolving rights of light matters, but the Heaney case has muddied the waters for all developers."

There are seven buildings whose owners could raise objections to the Walkie Talkie following the Heaney case, including Scottish Widows, the owner of Sackville House on Fenchurch Street, Munich Re, which owns 25-26 Lime Street, and CCLA Investment Management, a manager of charity and Church of England investments, which owns 10-12 Eastcheap.

Worried about further delays to the Walkie Talkie, which was put on ice during the property slump, the developers enlisted the help of the City planning officer, Peter Rees. He has outlined the problems in a report, asking the corporation's planning committee to use powers under section 237 of the Town and Country Planning Act to give the building immunity from any rights-of-light claims.

The committee already invoked section 237, which is designed to protect developments that provide economic benefits to the surrounding area, last month to protect Helical Bar's 1 Mitre Square development. To do the same for the Walkie Talkie, the corporation must have an "interest" in the site – for example it could acquire the freehold. The tower will have 690,000 sq ft of office space as well as 23,000 sq ft of retail space.

"The City of London Corporation is committed to the growth of the City and 20 Fenchurch Street will help with that," said McCabe.

Bryan Johnston of Clifford Chance has warned that the Heaney settlement "has left developers in a dark place," and called for a reform of the rights of light regime. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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