Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Amateur Astronomy in the UK

    1.  We conclude that there is convincing evidence that many professional astronomers benefit from the valuable input made to professional astronomy by the observations of amateurs. (Paragraph 23)

    2.  We believe that amateur and professional astronomers have played a valuable role in the introduction of young people into science. As Sir Patrick Moore commented "the amateur [astronomer] of today is the professional researcher of tomorrow". (Paragraph 27)

The study of Astronomy in the UK

    3.   Astronomy in the UK plays a valuable part in supporting the work of professionals, engaging young people in science, and producing astronomers and physicists through UK universities. It is not good enough that PPARC and the Department for Education and Skills had to pay for young people in schools to "book time" on overseas telescopes to see the night sky as it should be. (Paragraph 32)

    4.  Pupils should be able to study the night sky at school primarily with the naked eye or through a telescope rather than via a computer and the internet. (Paragraph 33)

    5.  There seems to be an acknowledgement within Government that Space is a good way to engage young scientists, but there is little real support for schools to use observing facilities in this country. The Department for Education and Skills should be supporting efforts to make the night sky available to all. We regret that it is not doing so at present. (Paragraph 34)

    6.  We regret that PPARC and the Government have adopted a defeatist attitude towards light pollution and astronomy in the UK. There are substantial numbers of amateur astronomers, astronomy undergraduates and postgraduates and professional astronomers observing in the UK. Amateur and professional astronomers have undertaken a dual role of showing and explaining the night sky to students, pupils and the general public, whilst campaigning for the last ten years to prevent further degradation of the night sky. It is time they receive support from PPARC and the Government. (Paragraph 40)

    7.  There is a real opportunity of using the enthusiastic astronomy community to increase the numbers of school pupils taking astronomy and continuing into physics. PPARC and DfES together should bring to bear more pressure on ODPM and DEFRA to find a way to protect the skies, particularly around those observatories who work with local schools. (Paragraph 41)

What is light pollution

    8.   Reducing the amount of electricity used to provide safe and effective levels of lighting for homes, streets and public buildings must be a priority for the Government. (Paragraph 55)

    9.  The adverse effects of light pollution on energy consumption are both undisputed and a source of much disquiet and annoyance for large parts of the population. The Government fails to take the issue seriously and does not consider light pollution in its full context - with its effect on everyone. (Paragraph 57)

Evidence of deterioration

    10.  We are disappointed by the inconsistent approach by the Government on the issue of light pollution. We hope that the more realistic attitude adopted by Lord Rooker is the true reflection of the Government's approach. The Government should not dismiss the compelling evidence of the satellite images of the United Kingdom, which clearly show an increase in light pollution in both rural and urban areas. (Paragraph 67)

Not just a UK problem

    11.  Those who have spent a lifetime studying the night sky have charted its deterioration and have now joined forces with environmental campaigners, astronomers in other countries, and also with those members of the general public, increasing in numbers, who have experienced the adverse effects of the increasingly badly lit environment. We are in no doubt that light pollution is getting worse. We recommend that the Government acknowledge this fact and give a commitment to taking serious action to tackle this problem, as other governments have proved it is possible to do. (Paragraph 70)

The need for lighting

    12.  We consider that whilst the role of efficient and well positioned street lighting in reducing accidents has been proven, the evidence relating to the correlation between lighting and crime is not conclusive. This link is outwith the remit of our inquiry, but is an area that merits further research. We look forward to seeing what new evidence the Government has received on the role of lighting in the reduction of crime when its good practice guidance "planning out crime" is published later this year. However, we believe that the impact of lighting on crime should be only one of a number of factors that is considered in the determination of Government policy on lighting. (Paragraph 74)

Street lighting

    13.  We welcome the fact that both the Department of Transport and the Highways Agency have given due consideration to the issue of light pollution. The Highways Agency has shown forward thinking in its gradual replacement of luminaires, and in giving environmental considerations top priority. It should be congratulated for its work with the lighting industry and with the Department for Transport's Lighting Board, to improve the efficiency of lighting throughout the UK. It should continue to work with local authorities to "spread the word" about light pollution and the benefits of High Pressure Sodium lighting. We look forward to viewing the results of various research projects into the effect of light pollution that the Agency has contributed to. (Paragraph 82)

    14.  The Government must act now to ensure that every local authority about to invest in new street lighting is well informed of the properties of modern luminaires and the issues of light pollution. If the Highways Agency, backed by the Department of Transport, has taken a policy decision to use high pressure sodium lighting, with full cut off and shallow bowl luminaires in its own replacement of street lighting, then the Government should issue clear guidance to local authorities that these types of lighting are believed to be the most suitable lights available at this time. British Standards codes of practice and guidance should be updated accordingly. (Paragraph 88)

    15.  Firm guidance and direction must come from the Government on this issue. Relying on piecemeal guidance, published some years ago, to inform important local decisions such as the replacement of the street lighting systems is not an acceptable attitude from the Government which is spending £380 million on this project. (Paragraph 89)

    16.  Local authorities which have not already invested in new lighting must be strongly advised to install High Pressure Sodium lighting, the design of which should be shallow bowl or fully cut off lighting as appropriate. Local authorities should also be required to follow ILE and CIE guidelines when deciding where to install Full Cut Off lighting, with an obligation to protect observatories, dark rural areas and parkland within their jurisdiction. (Paragraph 90)

    17.  We remain unconvinced that modernising street lighting alone will bring significant energy savings, but with pressure from Government, the lighting industry will respond to the need to provide more energy efficient and less light polluting luminaires. Whilst energy saving targets are important, the Highways Agency and local authorities must ensure that luminaires under their control only direct light where it is needed in order to start a trend in the reduction of light pollution. (Paragraph 91)

Other main causes

    18.  It is clear that there are significant potential energy savings to be made in the area of security lighting by reducing the amount of light pollution emitted from them. (Paragraph 94)

    19.  Whilst it is possible to angle 500w security lights correctly, we consider that for normal domestic purposes, they are energy-inefficient and liable to cause a nuisance. (Paragraph 96)

    20.  Whilst it is commendable that retailers have considered the issue of light pollution, leaflets inside the packaging of security lights will not alert customers to the benefits of a less powerful light before they decide which security light to buy. Providing the Institution of Lighting Engineer's Guidance on security lighting, or a version thereof, alongside the displays of security lighting would greatly assist the customer. However, it will not prevent incorrect installation of lights. Only legislation either banning the sale of 500w lights as security lighting, or the designation of light as a potential statutory nuisance will ensure that householders suffering from their neighbour's overspill of light have a remedy: we favour the control of obtrusive light through statutory nuisance legislation. (Paragraph 98)

    21.  Those responsible for floodlighting buildings and sports facilities and those companies lighting car parks should consider whether there is any need for lighting after 11pm or midnight. We recommend that, when giving planning permission to plans for new buildings with floodlighting, new floodlighting systems or new car parks, local authorities should impose conditions relating to the type of lights that are appropriate, how they should be positioned and the timing of the lighting to ensure it is not obtrusive to those around it and that it does not contribute to energy wastage. (Paragraph 103)

Current government guidance on light pollution

    22.  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. (Paragraph 108)

Planning guidance

    23.  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. (Paragraph 116)

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

    24.  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. (Paragraph 123)

The need for a new PPG on light pollution

    25.  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. (Paragraph 127)

The shortfalls on current planning guidance and implementation

    26.  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. (Paragraph 133)

    27.  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. (Paragraph 136)

Can light pollution be subject to statutory enforcement?

    28.  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. (Paragraph 145)

    29.   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. (Paragraph 146)

How other jurisdictions have legislated against light pollution

    30.  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. (Paragraph 153)


    31.  We consider that the astronomical community in this country is a particularly strong one and that it should be encouraged by the Government. Amateur astronomers not only support major professional projects through day to day observations, but also donate much of their time to introducing the general public and young people to the night sky, astronomy and through that initial interest, very often into a physics career. (Paragraph 156)

    32.   If we are to invest heavily in observatories abroad, we must also invest in the young scientists of today who will work in La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and Chile in the future. It is worth protecting the night sky for the use of astronomy pupils and students, amateurs and professional astronomers alone. However, Professor Sir Martin Rees provided an analogy when he pointed out that we may not all be ornithologists but we would miss the song birds in our gardens. (Paragraph 157)

    33.  The Government may not consider the effect of light pollution on astronomy in the UK to be a pressing issue, but amateur astronomers have taken on the issue on behalf of those who mourn the loss of the night sky, not only astronomers but also the general public, and those affected by the unwelcome intrusion of light. If the Government accepts this Report's recommendations it will start the process of reducing light pollution. In 20 years time it might then be possible for young people studying astronomy to see the Milky Way in the UK night skies once more. (Paragraph 158)

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 6 October 2003