With the winter solstice just past, you won’t be surprised that it was still pretty dark outside as I spoke about street lighting to Radio 4’s Today programme at ten past seven this morning.
Stars of wonder
Cuts to local authority budgets have left many councils looking at their street lighting energy bill and wondering if it’s time for a big switch-off. A survey of councils by the Labour Party found that 50 of the 141 councils that replied said they were turning off street lights and 98 are dimming their lights. There are fears that this will make our roads more dangerous and crime more likely under cover of the extra darkness.
Clearly, CPRE doesn’t want to see to see cuts that put people at risk, but there have been many innovations in street lighting in the past few years that allow councils to cut their energy bills by retrofitting lights with more energy efficient systems. And on roads reflective materials on safety signs can reduce the need for lighting, especially in rural areas.
And, of course, anything that reduces light pollution enables us to better appreciate the awe inspiring view of our starry skies. The CPRE has long campaigned against light pollution as one the key characteristics of rural areas is darkness at night - and the enthusiasm for a ‘dark skies’ policy in many parts of the country has been reflected in the popularity of achievements of areas such as Exmoor National Park which achieved International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2011. Dark sky status is also being sought by the South Downs National Park as it celebrates its fifth birthday and our Isle of Wight branch is currently supporting the Isle of Wight Dark Skies initiative. The branch last year (2013) awarded a ‘Good lighting award’ to the island’s highway service provider for their work to convert all street lights to energy saving carbon efficient LED units.
Such initiatives help illustrate how much people enjoy being able to see the night sky properly and bring them more in touch with our natural environment. Our current manifesto recognises this and calls on any new Government to enhance people’s experience of the countryside by committing to monitoring rural tranquillity and dark skies and the policies created to improve them. We want to ensure that all local authorities have a policy to control light pollution in their Local Plan, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, and investigate how part-time lighting schemes or dimming could work in their areas.
My colleague Emma Marrington blogged on our work on dark skies earlier this year and our Shedding Light report that found out about the many innovative schemes that allow us to enjoy the skyscape over our heads. For example, Hampshire County Council was one of the first local authorities to introduce a street lighting policy 20 years ago and has continued to pioneer ways of minimising light pollution.
The Shedding Light survey found that:
- Out of 76 councils, 65% had a policy to control lighting, which means that they would give careful consideration to the type of lighting used on new development or changes to existing development.
- Councils can save hundreds of thousands of pounds each year by either switching off street lighting in suitable locations between midnight and 5am, or dimming lights. The schemes can also reduce carbon and save energy.
- Councils told us that communities are far more supportive of dimming schemes (68%) than switching off streetlights between midnight and 5am (10%).
That last point illustrates why we’d like to see more consultation of local people when it comes to street lighting. A couple of months ago CPRE Norfolk was awarded a National Lottery’s Awards for All grant to take action against light pollution in the county. As part of the project the branch will carry out research to establish the attitudes to, and extent of, light pollution in Norfolk villages. To conclude the project, there will be a major conference to raise awareness of latest thinking, research and technology on the practicalities and benefits of reducing light pollution and how to promote and encourage good practice.
I look forward to hearing more about their work and those of many others as I suspect the fear of the dark can be tempered by the joy of our night sky as well as the energy saved.