Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Current Government guidance on light pollution

105. This Report has illustrated how astronomers and environmental campaigners have raised the problem of the growth of light pollution and its effects on us all. According to the evidence received, the situation has worsened substantially over the last thirty years. When asked what was being done to mitigate this growing problem, the Government told us that their strategy for tackling light pollution consisted of:

106. Annex Two shows a list of documents, Government and non-Government, which provide guidance on the issue of lighting and light pollution. The ILE, the Society of Light and Lighting (CIBSE), and the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) have produced the most prolific amount of lighting guidance. The ILE "Guidance Notes for the Reduction of Light Pollution" has been used, copied and adapted by organisations and countries around the world.[167]

107. The most comprehensive Government document on the issues of lighting is "Lighting in the Countryside", referred to earlier in the Report in the sections on street lighting. The Government claim that their policy of raising awareness was affirmed by the publication of this document which aimed to:

    "minimise the intrusiveness of lighting in the countryside. It is designed to provide practical advice to local authorities, developers, professionals and members of the public on: lighting design, products and standards; the effects of lighting on people, wildlife and countryside character; preparing and assessing the impacts of lighting schemes; how the planning system can best promote good lighting practice; and good practice for lighting schemes associated with particular types of development."[168]

108. Whilst this document is useful in both urban and rural contexts, the title might discourage an urban local authority from referring to it. We note that the document is now out of print and only available online.[169] The DEFRA consultation "Living Places - Powers, Rights, Responsibilities", which is currently under consideration by the Government, asked local authorities, householders and building developers whether they considered that the guidance in "Lighting in the Countryside needed updating. We recommend that the Government update "Lighting in the Countryside" to take into account its relevance to urban authorities and, bearing in mind the imminent investment by local authorities into street light replacement, republish and circulate the document accordingly.

109. The "Lighting in the Countryside" guidance, together with the Department of Transport documents and British Standards guidance constitute the Government's efforts to raise awareness of the issue of light pollution and give advice. Whilst it is possible that these documents might reach the right people within local authorities, we fail to see how the Government is taking steps to raise awareness of the issue of light pollution amongst the 'rottweiler' security light buying general public.

110. The only controls over light pollution are by use of the planning system. "Lighting in the Countryside" advises local authorities to consider "including a policy in relation to lighting in their development plans, and for supplementary planning guidance to elucidate those policies". The Government is unaware how many local authorities have followed this advice.[170] In addition, three Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGs) deal with lighting, whilst another two PPGs mention lighting in brief.

Planning Guidance


111. PPG 12 recommends subjects that ought to be included in Structure Plans and Development Plans. Local authorities are required to have regard to "social economic and environmental considerations." Environmental considerations are to be taken into account "comprehensively and consistently". Light pollution is listed as one of the environmental considerations that ought to be taken into account, though it is not explained how this should be done. The reader is referred to PPG23 for further guidance.


112. Local authorities are advised that the factors which planning authorities should take into account in preparing local plan policies will include "the possible impact of potentially polluting development on land use, including the effects on health, the natural environment, or general amenity resulting from releases [of] light". There is no guidance on how this should be done in PPG 23.


113. PPG 17 recommends that planning authorities ensure that local amenity is protected when considering applications for floodlighting on sports grounds. It refers to the impact of the daytime appearance on the surrounding countryside.


114. Two other PPGs refer to lighting: PPG15 "Planning and Historic Environment" discusses the need for consent for the floodlighting of historic buildings; and PPG19 "Outdoor Advertising Control" where local planning authorities should have regard to the effect of advertising on the appearance of buildings.

115. The Minister for Housing and Planning told us: "Planning guidance is already entirely clear at the moment in terms of our encouragement of down lighting. Full Cut-Off and Full Cut-Off in certain circumstances, good shaded lighting in other circumstances. Guidance is absolutely clear-cut about that."[171]We were extremely surprised by this answer. We are not aware of any Government planning guidance that tells local planning authorities when to use Full Cut-Off lighting and when to use partially cut off lighting.

116. Planning guidance on light pollution to local authorities lacks coherence and force. Light pollution is not tackled head on in any PPG. The response from the local authorities to those seeking protection from light nuisance is uneven and usually unhelpful.

How local authorities can use the current guidance to prevent light pollution

117. Local planning authorities may control light pollution by either rejecting an application for planning permission on amenity or environmental grounds; or may grant permission subject to conditions or a legal agreement. Local authorities may include policies on lighting in their local development plans (as is suggested in PPG12) and refuse an application based on those policies. CPRE provided examples in "Night Blight" of local authorities which had implemented policies within their local plans. Two local authorities submitted details to us of their local Plans. Canterbury City Council and Huntingdonshire District Council (DC) both had Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) on the subject of light pollution. Canterbury has included the policy as a direct response to the joint BAA/CPRE campaign to raise awareness of the issue of light pollution.[172]

118. Mr Peter Lummis, Lighting Engineer, at Huntingdonshire DC told us how successful Huntingdonshire had been in implementing their SPG. There can be no doubt that this is due to the enormous enthusiasm for and knowledge of the subject shown by Mr Lummis, and the good communication that exists between the Lighting and the Planning Departments in Huntingdonshire DC. There, planning applications with lighting schemes are passed to the Lighting Engineer for examination. More detail may be requested by the local authority - particularly regarding lighting levels at the boundary of the site and beyond the boundary. Huntingdonshire also has in its lighting guidance permissible levels of lighting according to the zone the premises is located in - this has been taken from ILE guidance.[173]

119. Mr Coatham of the ILE told us that local authorities should require applicants "when they are submitting designs for planning approval, to carry out an impact assessment on the lighting and that impact assessment should include what the amount of light going upwards is […] they should also be required to do an impact assessment of the light falling onto properties around."[174] Planning conditions can then be attached to the planning permission.

120. Mr Lummis told us that once the building has been completed he visits the site with the enforcement officer and a lux meter and confirms whether or not the conditions have been fully discharged before full planning permission is granted.[175] Although negotiations were necessary as applicants often submitted initial applications with unsuitable lighting, Mr Lummis told us he could not think of any case where negotiation and practical discussion had not come up with a suitable solution.[176]

121. When asked why all local authorities did not have the same attitude towards lighting as Huntingdonshire, Mr Lummis replied that at Huntingdon, lighting engineers worked closely with the planning department and so could be more closely involved with planning decisions. Funding is designated to ensure that planning departments have use of lighting engineer expertise.

122. The Rt Hon Keith Hill MP said "on the whole the local authorities are not doing as badly as the most pessimistic observers might expect. Something like 35 per cent of local authorities have light pollution controls in their planning guidance. The evidence from the CPRE report is that a further 26 per cent of authorities are actively involved in bringing forward light pollution controls in their planning guidance, others are contemplating it."[177] This still left 35 per cent of the local authorities CPRE contacted with no light pollution policies of any kind and no plans to introduce them.[178] CPRE contacted 49 English planning authorities, and so there is no definitive figure for the number of UK authorities with light pollution policies. There is no guarantee that these authorities will create policies in the near future, and may continue giving consent to planning applications with the worst type and positioning of luminaires. Mr Lummis told us: "Unless the planners themselves are either encouraged one way or formally forced by law to do it, there are always going to be some who are going to resist and do it their own way." [179]

123. There are too many local planning authorities which have not taken the issue of light pollution seriously and have not included light pollution in their local plans. The Government must take steps to rectify this. It should have a clear policy on when Full Cut Off lighting should be used, and we recommend that this policy is communicated to local authorities.

The need for a new PPG on light pollution

124. Many local authorities may not be aware of the issues of light pollution and may have overlooked "Lighting in the Countryside" if their area is an urban or suburban one. In order to bring light pollution to the attention of all local planning authorities, a separate PPG on light pollution should be created, giving local authorities clear guidance on what considerations should be given to every planning application containing a significant lighting scheme. It would also communicate the Government's policy on FCO lighting to local authorities.

125. Every local planning authority should be obliged to create Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) on Light Pollution. It should be subject to public consultation as it is drawn up - particularly with local astronomy societies. The SPG should give Planning Officers the necessary powers to request information on lighting schemes, and Planning Departments will be able to reject schemes which are non-compliant with the SPG.

126. Before planning permission is granted a local authority should require the following details (together with any other lighting conditions that are appropriate):

127. The Government should create a new Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) on Light Pollution as soon as possible and ensure that all local authorities are made aware of their obligation to include lighting in their local development plans. Local authorities must be obliged to request lighting schemes from those seeking planning permission for new developments, or changes to existing schemes. Lighting schemes must only include lights that do not shine above the horizontal. The new PPG should refer local authorities to the Institution of Lighting Engineers "Guidelines for the Reduction of Light Pollution" and the Department for the Environment's "Lighting in the Countryside" and publications by the International Commission on Illumination for further guidance.

The shortfalls of current planning guidance and implementation

128. We have received many memoranda from individuals, astronomers or not, who list examples of bad planning decisions, disinterest from local authorities, or lack of awareness from planning departments of the issues of light pollution.[180] We have also received examples of local authorities improving street lighting schemes, only for the effect to be mitigated by bad light spill from neighbouring sports facilities.[181] One memorandum stated of the attitude of local authorities to repeated enquiries concerning badly sited and designed lighting: "so many of us feel we are banging our collective heads against a brick wall".[182] Mr Mizon of CfDS said "the majority of the correspondence I receive as Co-ordinator of the Campaign for Dark Skies is from people who quite simply say that their councils say they cannot do anything or they will not do anything."[183]

129. The three major drawbacks of current guidelines are that:

  • The most conscientious planning authority can do nothing about light polluting fixtures installed before the local authority implemented its light pollution policies. If a company or individual have fulfilled the planning conditions, the local authority has no powers of enforcement. Peter Lummis of Huntingdonshire DC told us "that is the where the big difficulty is for us as a local authority".[184] Local authorities can only wait until lighting is replaced and a new planning application is submitted.
  • Many types of "problem" exterior lighting - mainly security and floodlighting - are not considered to be development and so are not subject to planning permission. Local authorities have no powers of control.
  • Light pollution, like noise pollution, travels. A local authority only has powers of enforcement over buildings and structures within its area. Many people suffer from glare and light spill from buildings or sports facilities in neighbouring districts outside the jurisdiction of the local authority in which they live.

130. Whilst it has been possible for amateur astronomers and local authorities to approach individuals and organisations with light polluting luminaires and persuade them to alter, change or adapt the fittings, this is not always the case. Mr Lummis said "some people are very ignorant and they will not work by negotiation unfortunately; some people only respond to "Thou shalt" rather than "Would you mind sorting this out with us?".[185]

131. When asked how Huntingdonshire District Council deals with neighbouring councils without lighting policies, Mr Lummis replied "We would have officers who would try to work and encourage other authorities to take the same steps and the same attitude as we have. We would always try to do that. It is difficult."[186] When asked if there was good co-operation between adjacent local authorities, he replied "Not as much as there ought to be, perhaps."[187]

132. Also, observatories, especially those used by universities funded through the Science Budget and those offering practical observation experience to schools, have no special protection, despite their valuable purpose. For example, St Andrews University has benefited from negotiating with the local Town Council for the introduction of cut-off lighting, but the observatory is still affected by the skyglow from Dundee. Dr Hilditch of St Andrews University believed that the observatory is also likely to be affected by a new housing development less than a mile away whose lighting schemes have not been made subject to planning controls. Likewise, the Royal Astronomical Society told us that Cambridge University had repeated battles on light pollution issues each time new developments were at the planning stage.[188]

133. The Government should afford special protection to observatories, for the same reasons that the UK Government supports the protection of UK funded observatories in the Canary Islands. Local authorities should be obliged to consult on planning applications for developments in the vicinity of observatories, which should be able to object if the development is likely to affect their observations. Observatories would be able to register with their local authority for protection, showing their active membership or links with local schools as evidence of their importance to the community.

134. In essence, the Government's current position is that sufficient guidance on lighting exists in the public domain, no further controls on the types of lighting systems available are necessary, and local authorities can control light pollution through planning controls as they currently exist. We disagree.

135. The Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) was set up in 1989 to tackle light pollution. It now has 120 officers throughout the country. Members have spent the last fourteen years attempting to stem the increase of light pollution. Unlike the Government, CfDS has been waging an active campaign in the field to educate local authorities, organisations and individuals on the disadvantages of light pollution in general, how it can be alleviated and how controls could be included into local plans and implemented effectively.[189] And yet light pollution is getting worse. Bob Mizon, Director of CfDS made a significant analogy when he said of 500w security lights "They are the new leylandii".[190]

136. Legislation combating the nuisance of Leylandii has gained Government support. [191]However, when asked whether light pollution ought to be accorded the same Government support, the Rt Hon Keith Hill MP said: "Candidly the answer is no […] the point about Leylandii is that I am very keen about that legislation but it is a very definable and a very specific nuisance which has highly specific anti-social effects. With the best will in the world, I do not think that the same arguments could be deployed about light pollution."[192] We disagree that light pollution is less serious than the issue of Leylandii. Light pollution is not only detrimental to the science of astronomy, but it is wasteful of energy and causes distress to many individuals.

The case for a Statutory Nuisance of Light

137. Together with our suggested new PPG on Light Pollution, making light a statutory nuisance would enable local authorities to tackle lighting that has previously been impossible for them to control. Light was omitted as a statutory nuisance from the Environmental Protection Act 1990, whereas nuisances such as noise, smoke, fumes, gases, dust, steam, smell, and animals were included. It is difficult to understand why this omission took place. An individual can suffer from the effects of intrusive light from his neighbour in the same way that he might suffer from noise or smell pollution. The Act gives local authorities the power to serve an abatement notice on the offender requiring the offender to take steps necessary to remove the cause of the nuisance and prevent its reoccurrence. Under the serving of such an order, light spill from floodlighting, street lighting or from security lighting would be remedied by simple adjustments or by adding baffles, louvres and other shieldings to obtrusive lights.

138. Light, like noise, dust and smoke can travel great distances. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 also enables local authorities to take action where the nuisance has occurred within the area of the local authority but was caused by an act or default taking place outside the area. If light were made a statutory nuisance, a conscientious local authority would be able to protect its own ratepayers from the lightspill caused by buildings, roads and facilities in a neighbouring, light polluting local authority.

139. We do not expect the creation of light as a statutory nuisance to open the floodgates of complaints. We do, however, consider that light can be prejudicial to health and can cause great distress. Those that have suffered the unwanted effects of light pollution in the past will finally have a remedy. We expect that the creation of light as a nuisance would bring about a greater general awareness of the correct installation and siting of light fittings. There would be a greater obligation on retailers to ensure that security lights are sold that are suitable for the size and location of house and property.

140. The Government has already confirmed that it has given serious consideration to the issue of light pollution and statutory nuisance, and DEFRA is now considering the responses to its consultation "Living Places - Powers, Rights, Responsibilities". This paper sought opinions as to whether the Government "should introduce new regulations for positioning of external lighting (other than street lighting) and the powers to extend the statutory nuisance regime to include lighting." We were interested to note that the Local Government Association was not consulted on this matter.[193] From the Government evidence it would appear that although the Government is open to the possibility to light being made a statutory nuisance, the main issue of contention is the measurement of light.[194]

Can light pollution be subject to statutory enforcement?

141. The Government told us that "It is extremely difficult to design a feasible means of assessing external light for statutory planning control purposes."[195] However, if light from a property or structure falls across a property boundary onto another premises so as to cause a nuisance, this light can be measured. Evidence from the ILE and Mr Peter Lummis, lighting engineer for Huntingdonshire District Council, confirmed that it is possible to do this.[196] The CIE has also recently published guidance on how such measurements could be made to assess and control levels of illumination in cases of obtrusive outdoor lighting.[197] The CIE described how it was possible to calculate, using computer programming, the intensity of a proposed light fitting and the area which will be illuminated by it.[198] Once the light fitting has been installed, light trespass onto a boundary, through a window, can be measured using a lux meter. Mr Lummis also gave the example of how he had assessed how much light fell from a floodlighting structure onto a neighbouring chicken farm. Once light levels were assessed, the floodlights were altered and the levels re-measured.[199]

142. Should it be impossible to measure an obtrusive light source, DEFRA confirmed that subjective judgments, as is the case for the nuisance of smell, could also be used without the need for scientific measurements. There have been two judgments already based on the subjective opinion of the Judge.[200] We seen no reason why Environmental Health Officers, with the relevant training, should not be able to assess light spill and make a subjective judgment on a case by case basis. Dr Martin Williams, Head of Air and Environmental Quality Division, DEFRA confirmed that:

    "You are right to imply that there are existing nuisances classified as statutory nuisances which do not necessarily have a particularly scientific method of measurement when they are judged and assessed by environmental health officers. In that regard, you can mount a very credible argument that light could be handled in that way."[201]

143. An acceptable level of light for different situations would have to be agreed, but we are confident that this can be achieved through consultation with local authorities, interested parties and the Institution of Lighting Engineers. Mr Williams confirmed that "the relevant point is that one has to go through the whole process of agreeing the methods for assessing light as a nuisance. That may not necessarily mean some very sophisticated and lengthy and involved scientific method."[202]

144. Whilst we have received several memoranda containing suggestions for the measurement of skyglow - including star counts and the use of photographic equipment - PPARC, the Government and the ILE all agree that it would be difficult to accurately measure sky glow over a town, city or area of countryside.[203] However, Mr David Coatham of the ILE confirmed that it was possible to measure the amount of light being shone above the horizontal for planning and enforcement purposes:

    "Whilst the level of skyglow cannot simply be measured, an assessment of the level of light going directly upwards from the luminaires can be calculated from the photometric data for the specific luminaire at its specified mounting angle. This can be used to give an indication of the level of direct light sent up in to the sky and would allow maximum values to be set."[204]

145. We conclude that the problem of light pollution can be alleviated without the need for scientific measurement of sky glow. Sky glow is just one of three types of light pollution, the cause of which is well known, and is clearly visible - particles in the air and light shining above the horizontal. Light shining above the horizontal should be tackled directly by controls on the direction, position and type and duration of lighting, guidance on which should be included in the PPG on light pollution we have recommended.

146. Smell is currently assessed on the subjective judgment of the Environmental Health Officer - light can be assessed the same way, and there is legal precedent to show that this judgment can be made. The Government seems to be using the argument that measurement of all light pollution is impossible as a reason to do nothing about it. In the mean time, light pollution is getting worse. Light trespass and glare affects astronomers, but it can also affect us all. We are persuaded by the evidence that light trespass is measurable and controllable. We recommend that obtrusive light should be made a statutory nuisance.

How other jurisdictions have legislated against light pollution

147. As previously discussed, other countries have produced legislation to counter the effects of light pollution. Only one country, the Czech Republic, has enacted national legislation. Each country has tackled the issue by controlling the type and position of light source and fitting that may be installed, rather than just measuring the emission.

148. For example, in the United States of America several states (Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maine, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland and Georgia) have legislation of various degrees of severity requiring state-funded lighting to be fitted with FCO lighting if the lighting units have an output of greater than 1,800 lumens (a 125w bulb). Arizona has required that all outdoor lighting fixtures must be fully or partly shielded with FCO lighting if the lights are more than 150w. Non-conforming lights can be used if they shut off automatically between midnight and dawn. New Mexico requires that all new outdoor lighting should be shielded below the horizontal level or shut off after 11pm. Non-conforming lighting must be replaced with conforming fixtures once they wear out.

149. The Czech Republic's "Protection of the Atmosphere" Act 2002 defines light pollution as any form of illumination by artificial light which is dispersed outside the areas in which it is intended, particularly in cases when the light is above horizontal level. Powers have been given to local authorities to specify and implement regulations to ensure that light pollution does not occur within their municipality, and they have been given the power to impose fines if these regulations are breached. It does not specify how pollution is to be measured or prevented, further than the definition of light pollution itself. However, an amendment is currently going through the Czech Parliament which will provide greater detail on this.

150. Bisei in Japan and the Canary Islands have both implemented legislation to protect world-class observatories in these areas, and in both areas the restrictions are quite severe. For example, in Bisei all outdoor lights (apart from safety lights) must be turned off after 10pm, and both indoor and outdoor lights must be shaded to prevent light going above the horizontal. Bisei has adopted the IAU guidance which suggests that the brightness of the night sky should not exceed 10% of the natural condition. The Japanese National Government have developed guidelines, and planning guidance referring to international examples and aiming to reduce light pollution.

151. Lombardy passed the regional law, The Light Pollution Act 2000 in order to reduce light pollution and the energy consumptions deriving from it, and to protect professional astronomical observatories and non-professional observatories carrying out scientific research or work aimed at the popularisation of astronomy. Under the law, regional and provincial administrations, municipalities, astronomical observatories, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of lighting installations, project technicians and installators were all given directives to comply with. The municipalities were responsible for adopting lighting plans and their enforcement. The Act defined the types, position and power of lights permissible and gave municipalities the power to apply administrative endorsements to those who failed to comply with the law.

152. In La Palma, as well as restrictions on the types of lighting permissible, ornamental floodlighting, the floodlighting of sports facilities and advertisements must be turned off after midnight. Each zone on the island has a total limit on the amount of light emission permissible. The observatory in La Palma is protected by the Astrophysics Institute's Office for the Protection of the Quality of the Canarian Sky. Professor Murdin told us that the technique for monitoring the light emissions was "repeated photographs of the landscape around the observatories and repeated measurement of the flux of light from artificial sources that comes from the telescope."[205] There are similar restrictions around the Anglo-Australian telescope in Australia and the International Observatory in Chile which is monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Skies of Northern Chile.[206] Both the Government and PPARC have voiced their support for these restrictive measures around the world-class observatories overseas in which the UK Government has heavily invested.[207]

153. Other countries have used restrictions on the type and duration of lighting permissible in an attempt to control light pollution. Measurement of light emission is only used in the most heavily regulated areas. We believe that the Government should monitor the situation in the UK carefully over the next five to ten years. Should the creation of a statutory nuisance of light, a separate PPG for light pollution and enhanced guidance to local authorities on the issue of light pollution not produce a reduction of the current levels of skyglow, the Government must consider adopting similar legislation to other countries, to control the types of outside lighting used, and to ensure that no outdoor lighting shines above the horizontal. The Government must recognise, as other countries have, that the night sky needs protecting.

166   Ev 224 Back

167   Ev 180 Back

168   Ev 224 Back

169 Back

170   Ev 225 Back

171   Q 171 Back

172   Ev 230 Back

173   Institution for Lighting Engineers ,Guidelines for the Reduction of Light Pollution, 2000 Back

174   Q 95 Back

175   Q 127 Back

176   Q 130 Back

177   Q 154 Back

178   Night Blight!, p 24 Back

179   Q151 Back

180   Ev 43, 54, 55, 57, 62, 63, 64, 72, 92, 94, 132, 139, 163, 199, 212 Back

181   Ev 52, 76 Back

182   Ev 66 Back

183   Q 23 Back

184   Q 132 Back

185   Q 140 Back

186   Q 141 Back

187   Q 142 Back

188   Ev 176 Back

189   Q 41 Back

190   Q 38 Back

191   High Hedges (No. 2) Bill, [Bill 28 (2002-03)] Back

192   Q 163 Back

193   Ev 68 Back

194   Ev 222 Back

195   Ev 226 Back

196   Qq 95, 136 Back

197   CIE 150:2003, p V Back

198   CIE 150:2003, p 20 Back

199   Q 136 Back

200   Bonwick v Brighton and Hove Council, August 2000, and Stonehaven and District Angling Association v Stonehaven Tennis Club. Back

201   Q177 Back

202   Q177 Back

203   Ev 184, Q 212, Ev 226 Back

204   Ev 195 Back

205   Q 62 Back

206   Ev 178 Back

207   Ev 204, 223 Back

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