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Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Standing Committee G

Tuesday 1 February 2005


[Mr. Eric Forth in the Chair]

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clause 102

Statutory nuisance: lighting

Amendment moved [27 January]: No. 57, in clause 102, page 75, line 2, after 'premises', insert

    'or streetlights on public roads or public rights of way'.

_[Miss McIntosh]

8.55 am

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 58, in clause 102, page 75, line 16, at end insert—

    '(j) premises or apparatus used for the provision of electronic communication services.'.

No. 104, in clause 102, page 75, line 16, at end insert—

    '(k) a playing field, playing pitch or other outdoor facility used wholly or mainly for sport.'.

No. 117, in clause 102, page 75, line 16, at end insert,

    '; that is necessary to meet statutory requirements relating to national security or public safety, provided that reasonable and practicable steps have been taken to minimise light emissions to the minimum necessary to meet those requirements.'.

No. 105, in clause 102, page 75, line 37, at end insert—

    '''playing field'' has the meaning given in Article 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Amendment) Order 1996;''playing pitch'' means a delineated area which, together with any run-off area, is 0.4 hectares or more, and which is used for sport;'.

No. 106, in clause 102, page 75, line 49, at end insert—

    '''sport'' is designated as any sporting activity which appears on the list maintained by the National Sports Councils of activities recognised by them, as applicable to Schedule 18 to the Finance Act 2002;'.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): May I welcome you back to the Committee, Mr. Forth.

On Thursday the Minister made what he was hoping would be a helpful intervention, which gives me the opportunity to respond in like manner. There is some concern about how the original clause will be amended. The Minister said:

    ''It is merely that a local authority would be able to treat as a statutory nuisance those particular cases that qualify as a common law nuisance or are prejudicial to health.'' [Official Report, Standing Committee G, 27 January 2005; c. 314.]

He will be aware that there is concern that under subsection (4) there are some extensive, wide exceptions to that form of statutory nuisance that many would like brought within the remit of the clause, including in airports, harbours, railways and transport facilities generally. He may also be aware that another form of statutory nuisance—general
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farming practices—is causing great concern. A typical example of that would include, in the view of the National Farmers Union, situations in which a local authority deems that a nuisance is being caused by agricultural activities or farm buildings near a residential area. A case in point would be harvesting at night in good weather in July and August, which are the most intensive times of the year for arable farmers, when they often have a very small window of opportunity. There are a number of instances of statutory nuisance that could fall within the original clause.

In amendments Nos. 104 and 105, we seek to address the matter of an all-weather, all-year-round pitch that is heavily dependent—[Interruption.]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I was waiting for her to come to the next sentence of the paragraph in Hansard from which she quoted. I said:

    ''I ask her not to suggest that the clause would have an impact on sports facilities—generally, it would not.'' [Official Report, Standing Committee G, 27 January 2005; c. 314.]

That was specific.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful for that. I read that and heard it on the day, and now I hear again what the Minister says. However, the Government, perhaps inadvertently, have set up a hornet's nest and the air is buzzing with concern. In my area, we are fortunate enough to have a limited number of all-weather pitches and sports facilities. In a rural area where transport facilities are not that great and public transport is not as widely available as in urban areas, we are even more dependent on local community football and sports facilities.

I know about and support the Government's campaign to promote fitness and fight rising levels of obesity. The Minister must be aware that approximately 7 million adults and 5 million children participate weekly in football alone. That is not just limited to Sunday morning football. In fact, week-night five-a-side football is growing rapidly as a form of exercise for a vast number of people and that facility may inadvertently be limited by the drift of the clause.

Alun Michael: The hon. Lady says that the air is buzzing with concern. It would be more accurate to say that it is buzzing with misinformation. I have made sure that officials have spoken to organisations such as the Football Association to make sure that they understand that those concerns are misplaced. I hope that she will not add to the mischief and concern by misrepresenting the situation and the impact of the clause.

Miss McIntosh: I put it to the Minister that his Department did not consult the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union, the Lawn Tennis Association or other relevant trade associations, or the Central Council of Physical Recreation when formulating and drafting this Bill.
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Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady check her facts? My understanding is that the Department met the FA just last week, and the meeting was satisfactory. The issues were explored, and reassurances were given.

Miss McIntosh: That makes my point; if the Department met the FA for the first time last week, even though the Bill is in its Committee stage, that speaks for itself.

Alun Michael: No, it does not speak for itself. I do wish that the hon. Lady would stop misrepresenting the situation—inadvertently, I am sure. The fact is that the FA wrote a letter to Members of Parliament, and I immediately acted to make sure that officials met the FA to correct the misapprehensions. I offered to meet the FA personally, should it have any concerns following that meeting. Of course, we consulted the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England on the measures. The reason why the concerns have not been addressed in meetings is that the bodies will not be affected in the way that the hon. Lady suggests.

Miss McIntosh: If the Minister is going down that path, can he give the Committee a categoric assurance that the clause will not be interpreted by local authorities or the courts as applying to sports facilities and playing fields? In the spirit of good intentions and co-operation, will the Minister see fit to support amendments Nos. 104 and 105, and will he write into the Bill something to say that such sports facilities and playing fields will not be damaged and affected in the way that they fear? All the bodies to which I referred sought early consultation with the Minister. Perhaps this misunderstanding, as he calls it, would not have arisen if that consultation had taken place at the earliest possible stage.

What possible reason could there be for not writing such an assurance into the Bill? Why rely on departmental guidance that has no statutory basis, is not enforceable and may well lead to an interventionist local authority or housing association targeting sports facilities under the provisions, even though the Minister says that that is not his Department's intention? Surely this is exactly the role that primary legislation should play. It may be for your convenience and that of the Committee, Mr. Forth, if I say now that I wish to press amendments Nos. 104 and 105 to the vote.

Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): Will you advise me, Mr. Forth? Are we dealing with amendment No. 57 or the whole string of amendments?

The Chairman: We are dealing with the group.

Sue Doughty: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Forth.

Certainly, we support anything that would mitigate a new source of street lighting, which is an enormous cause of nuisance. It pollutes the night sky and creates red glow. Increasingly, good design is reducing that problem.

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In our amendment No. 117, we are looking at statutory undertakings in relation to big organisations such as harbours and airports. We had a bit of a debate that was not entirely satisfactory on Second Reading. That debate seemed to come down to party political points about which harbour created more light pollution. We should be saying that such major undertakings should be lit sufficiently well to meet requirements, but should not light everywhere around them.

I referred on Second Reading to my visit to Gatwick airport, which has started to consider the light that it emits. That was a very positive experience because, although in areas such as car parks adequate lighting was needed for people's safety, there was no need for 500,000 neon bulbs across the whole of the airport. Phasing those out and bringing in renewable energy that gave out softer lighting and reduced light pollution was extremely welcome.

We have real problems with light pollution. The National Society for Clean Air and the Campaign to Protect Rural England both support measures to ensure that the places exempted still have to make a reasonable effort to limit light pollution. We need the energy efficiency; a ridiculous amount of energy is burned up by excessive lighting. Artificial lighting is a nuisance, and that needs to be said. However, we ought to make sure that when a statutory undertaking emits a large amount of light, there are codes of practice that it has to adhere to. The list of exemptions could have the perverse effect of implying that the issue does not matter for organisations such as airports or ports and that they can emit however much light they like. The Minister is shaking his head; I look forward to hearing his argument.

We welcome the measures being taken by the Government on light pollution, because it is such a nuisance. We are losing our night skies. In some ways, there do not seem to be the same grounds for exemption for organisations such as airports and ports; they do not have to conform as ordinary citizens have to in managing what they do.

During the Second Reading debate, we talked about freight depots and ports. Poole ferry terminal is visible from 30 miles out into the English channel; the light can even be seen from below the horizon. Why is that necessary? There are areas in which there are considerations of national security and public safety, and they are legitimate concerns. People recognise that security is of paramount importance. However, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has been asking how we can work with the Government. The Campaign for Dark Skies says that we need to recognise that light pollution is taking place.

The clause is important. What would happen in the case of existing sites—trading estates, for example? I used to live near a mini trading estate, with a wood yard and a couple of other things, that was dark at night. This week I have suddenly found that there is a
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Renault garage close to my home. It blares light across an area of semi-rural countryside that formerly did not even have street lights. What will happen to existing legislation? Will the Bill give more opportunity for councils to take note of residents' complaints? The residents understood that the Renault garage was coming, but not that there would be a ridiculous amount of light through the evening and from midnight until dawn.

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