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Dark skies at risk: more action needed by councils to tackle light pollution

25 April 2014

Local authority lighting plans can have a huge impact on light pollution Local authority lighting plans can have a huge impact on light pollution © Shutterstock

 

Councils in England could reduce the impact of light pollution and save hundreds of thousands of pounds each year by adjusting street lighting, such as through dimming schemes, new research by CPRE reveals.

Darkness at night is part of what makes the countryside unique but fewer than two thirds of councils in England are seeking to minimise the impact of bad lighting despite changes to planning laws which encourage them to do so. CPRE’s report, ‘Shedding Light – a survey of local authority approaches to lighting in England’ is the first research to survey councils specifically on how they control light pollution.

The proportion of people living with severe light pollution around the country is growing but while eight in ten councils said they considered the impact of lighting on the open countryside when considering lighting on building developments or highways, over a third have no policy in place to help them control light pollution.

Almost a third of councils surveyed were switching off street lights, typically between midnight and 5am, and almost half of respondents said they were involved in dimming street lights in their areas. The research found dimming schemes are significantly more popular than switch off schemes with residents, with 68 per cent of respondents saying local communities had been very supportive.

Street lighting in England costs councils approximately £616m per year and can account for up to 30% of their carbon emissions so tackling light pollution will have a triple benefit – cutting costs and carbon too.

As a result of the research CPRE is calling for councils to do more to control lighting in their areas. The report makes nine recommendations including: preserving dark skies by having a presumption against new lighting in existing dark areas; allocating lighting zones to help determine where streetlights should and should not go; and preventing inappropriate and badly designed lighting of development that masks views of the night sky.

Emma Marrington, CPRE Dark Skies Campaigner, said:

‘The results of our survey show that many local authorities are taking steps in the right direction to manage lighting more effectively. But much more can be done to encourage all authorities to take this issue more seriously.

‘We urge councils to do more to control lighting in their areas, and ensure that the right lighting is used only where and when it is needed. We often hear concerns that changing street lighting can impact on public safety but our research revealed no evidence to support this. We’re not advocating changes where they’re not appropriate, but why shine bright lights on residential streets, quiet roads and open countryside throughout the night when it’s not needed?

‘Genuine dark starry nights are becoming harder and harder to find which is why councils should take action to control it now. Light pollution blurs the distinction between town and country, ruins the countryside’s tranquil character and denies us the experience of a truly starry sky.’

 

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