Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Alun Michael: It is clear that, yet again, I have to steer a careful course between Scylla and Charybdis—I refer to the hon. Members for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and for Guildford (Sue Doughty). Between them, they ask me to do more and less. Both requests are, as I hope to persuade the Committee, based on misapprehensions. The exceptions in clause 102(4) refer specifically to areas where safety is a paramount priority for transport, and where movement and safety are at a premium. The two other examples in the list are lighthouses and prisons, and I am sure that the safety considerations necessary for them are obvious to all. We do not want the Bill to be used in such circumstances; the Bill has a very clear focus on local circumstances. The hon. Member for Guildford referred to existing legislation. I will come to that in a moment, because there is a need to consider the interface between the proposals before us and the existing legislation. It may be helpful if I start by setting out the scope of this measure—what it does and does not do.

The clause does not provide local authorities with new general powers to control artificial lighting. Rather, local authorities will be given the ability to treat as a statutory nuisance particular instances of artificial lighting that qualify as a common law nuisance or are prejudicial to health. These terms have been used for many years, and there is extensive case law on their meaning. The need to achieve a reasonable balance between the interests of individuals who are adversely affected by an activity and the need to carry on that activity is integral to the law on statutory nuisance. For artificial lighting, local authorities will need to balance the nuisance caused by particular lights against the need for adequate lighting on, for example, security or safety grounds.

The law on statutory nuisance also contains a specific defence of having used ''best practical means''—I shall refer back to those three words—to prevent or suppress the effects of certain statutory nuisances, particularly those arising on trade, business and industrial premises. Clause 103 deals with the availability of this defence for both artificial lighting and nuisance insects. This provision, in effect, permits an activity that might be otherwise be unreasonable to continue where those who are responsible for it have used the best means available to them to prevent it, or to reduce its impact.

Paddy Tipping: In the case of floodlit sports facilities, is my hon. Friend telling us that if the sports club is using the ''best practical means'' and the latest
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technology, then there is no threat whatever? Will he repeat his assurance that he is prepared to meet the FA, and make the position absolutely clear to them? I am sure that there is some mischief-making going on here.

Alun Michael: I share my hon. Friend's concern. I was coming to the situation of sports facilities, which is precisely as he has set out. In the light of these points, I do not think that this clause poses any threat to the floodlighting of sports facilities, and in my view amendments Nos. 104, 105 and 106 are unnecessary.

I have indicated, both last week and again today, that I am aware of the Football Association's concerns on this point. My officials had a useful meeting with the FA last week. The FA said that they were most concerned about the effect restrictions on artificial lighting might have on the provision of new floodlit facilities. The planning process for such facilities, however, already takes full account of the impact of artificial lighting, and enabling local authorities to treat artificial lighting as a statutory nuisance will have no implications for the planning process for new facilities.

Let me underline once more the fact that passing this Bill in its current form, which will enable local authorities to treat artificial lighting as a statutory nuisance, will have no implications for the planning processes for new facilities.

While there is a theoretical possibility that a local authority might try to challenge existing floodlighting on the basis that it was a statutory nuisance, in reality this would be highly unlikely. There is a strong public interest in encouraging community football and sports facilities, and any adverse effects of floodlighting on individuals living near a sports ground will need to be balanced against the interests of all those who use that ground. That is already the situation. In most, if not all, cases I would expect the provider of the floodlighting to be able to make use of the ''best practical means'' defence. It is difficult to envisage that those operating a sports ground would deliberately, for example, aim their floodlights at a particular row of properties. That would be the sort of perversity that anybody would want to see dealt with firmly.

In any event, we will make it clear in the guidance that we do not expect floodlit playing fields and other sports facilities to fall foul of the provision in practice.

Paddy Tipping: Is my right hon. Friend willing to discuss the practice guidance with interested bodies? Will he ask his officials to do that?

9.15 am

Alun Michael: Yes, I can give a cast-iron assurance on that point. I have already said that guidance will be a matter for consultation, but we do not see any problem with it. The target is not that perceived by the hon. Member for Vale of York. There might be occasions when badly sited lights cause unnecessary
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hardship to those in the vicinity, but in such cases we would expect the problem to be resolved through discussion between the local authority and those responsible for the lighting.

As for new facilities, I was talking to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism last week, before we received the letter from the FA. He referred to the way in which technology has moved on. It allows much better targeting of light in new facilities, so that there is not much impact on those in the area and the best possible quality of lighting is provided for those who take part in sporting activities.

For many years before entering Parliament, I spent much time as a youth worker and a councillor, improving and increasing the facilities available in my area, so I am not without knowledge of the discussions that are necessary to provide such facilities. More generally, the guidance will make it clear that the provisions on artificial lighting should be introduced in a reasonable and proportionate way and that every effort must be made to resolve problems by negotiation, with enforcement action taken only as a last resort.

Many of the same arguments apply to amendment No. 58. Like many other industrial facilities, premises or apparatus used for the provision of electronic communication services clearly need adequate lighting for operation and security purposes. The law on statutory nuisance recognised the need for industry to be able to carry out its usual functions, and that is further protected by the defence of ''best practical means''. I shall return to those three important words. For those reasons, it is not necessary to single out communication services for particular protection.

Amendment No. 57, which would extend the provision to apply public nuisance legislation specifically to street lights on public highways, is in a different category. Local authorities are responsible for street lighting and for applying the law on statutory nuisance. Rather than giving local authorities the theoretical ability to issue abatement notices on themselves, it is better to deal with light pollution from street lighting by other means. Modern lighting design can already provide street lighting that does not waste energy and directs light only where it is wanted. That is used increasingly when lighting is replaced and is common for new lighting schemes.

The Government made £300 million available in private finance initiative credits in 2003-04 to help local authorities in England—those outside London—to modernise their street lighting. In London, a further £85 million in PFI credits will be available for street lighting over the next three years. That is additional to support provided through the revenue support grant.

Amendment No. 117 would create ambiguity, which would complicate the provision. For example, what is the minimum amount of light necessary to meet statutory requirements? Most of the exemptions are
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for transport facilities and are necessary because we need to put it beyond doubt or further qualification that artificial lighting used at the premises does not qualify as statutory nuisance. Moving vehicles represent a danger to health and safety. Movements are often complex in the sort of facilities referred to under the clause, and lighting outside and at night must be used. Ports and airports have international obligations that require the provision of adequate lighting for safety and security. Moreover, transport tends to operate at all hours and requires essential maintenance at night to ensure that vehicles and the infrastructure are operational during the day.

I appreciate some of the points made by the hon. Member for Guildford about the way in which some transport facilities operate, but those matters are best dealt with elsewhere rather than in the neighbourhood considerations under the Bill.

Sue Doughty: I am listening carefully to the Minister. He said that such matters are best dealt with elsewhere. How does he suggest they can be dealt with?

Alun Michael: I was about to make the point anticipated by the hon. Lady. The exemptions mean that, for transport facilities, the status quo will apply. Although they will not be subject to the statutory nuisance regime, and so subject to regulation by local authorities under this heading, it will not prevent individuals from taking private nuisance actions in cases in which they feel that artificial lighting is causing them a severe problem. A private action can, for example, be taken by a person whose land adjoins a transport facility from which artificial lighting is

    ''unduly interfering with that person's comfortable or convenient enjoyment of his own land.''

We often legislate in respect of transport facilities—such as the arrangements that are dealt with in the exceptions—but it is not appropriate to go into the complexities of the arrangements for ports, airports and other transport facilities in this Bill. That is why the measure, which is intended to deal with the local nuisance that was strongly highlighted by our consultation, should be appropriately targeted. The guidance will make the application clear.

In response to the comments of the hon. Member for Vale of York, sometimes it is not appropriate for things to be clarified in the Bill because of the law of unintended consequences. The exceptions that are listed are clear and comprehensive. That is the correct way in which to deal with the matter in the Bill, and I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

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