Light Pollution (2006)

The PM's office replies to the more than 3000 people who petitioned that all exterior lights are shaded to direct their light downwards, so as to prevent light pollution obscuring the beauty of the night sky.

10 Downing St has responded to the e-petition, to which many fellows of the RAS contributed, which lamented that ' for those who live in our towns and cities, the night sky is filled with a dull orange glow punctuated only by the dim glimmer of an occasional bright star or planet' and calling for the fitting well designed shades on all exterior lights (to)stop light leaking wastfully upwards, restoring the glorious beauty of a star strewn sky overhead'.

In a statement the Government, it said, 'recognises the fact that outdoor lighting has increased significantly over the past 30 years and we are working to tackle the problem through better planning, energy efficiency, improved street lighting and more effective local authority enforcement.

The night sky over England is more brightly lit than any other European country, with the exception only of the Netherlands. This is certainly reducing our ability to view and enjoy the night sky, and this has implications for astronomers, stargazers and wildlife alike. The wasted energy from unnecessary lighting is also contributing to dangerous climate change.
In 2003, a Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology held an enquiry into light pollution and astronomy to consider the effectiveness of measures taken to reduce the impact of light pollution on astronomy. A number of sources of light pollution were considered, including street lighting, domestic and industrial security lighting, and the floodlighting of sports facilities and buildings.

A number of recommendations were made, including better use of the planning process and the extension of the statutory nuisance regime to include light. The Government, broadly welcoming the Committee's recommendations, are working to reduce the amount of light pollution from premises and street lighting and have given local authorities stronger powers to take action against artificial lighting on premises and unwanted glares from security lighting.

The adverse effect of some external lighting is well known, and a Transport White Paper, published in 1998, stated that 'where lighting is essential, it should be designed in such a way that nuisance is reduced and the effect on the night sky in the countryside minimised" . In the past, much street lighting has been provided by low-pressure sodium lighting units, and this often leads to an orange sky glow. Newer technologies, and in particular high-pressure sodium lighting units, allow much finer control of the light distribution and a reduction in the amount of light directed towards the sky.

As a response to this White Paper, highway authorities are now encouraged to consider using high-pressure, or other light sources allowing more precise light control, when installing new lighting or updating older lighting schemes. The Government also announced £600 million Private Initiative Credits in November 2005 for street lighting schemes to help the renewal of street lighting to help bring it in line with modern standards. Better, more effective lighting should not only reduce light pollution, it can also help to reduce crime and road accidents.

The Government has also given local authorities stronger powers to tackle light pollution under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. The Act extended the statutory nuisance regime and enables authorities to issue abatement notices, and individuals to take private action through the magistrate's court. Fines, upon conviction, for non-compliance with an abatement notice can range up to £5,000 for domestic premises, with up to £20,000 for industrial/trade/business premises.

Since 1997, lighting has been considered as part of the planning process for new buildings, and this applies to residential as well as commercial premises. The Government is currently developing a good practice guidance on use of artificial lighting on premises. We have also provided guidance to local authorities, highway engineers and members of the public on ways to lessen the adverse effects of external lighting. This guidance, Lighting in the Countryside: Towards good practice, as well as other information on light pollution, is available via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' website '