I would like to assure you that the Government recognises the impact light pollution may have on people’s health and wellbeing, as well as on the environment. Andrew Griffith MP, my fellow Sussex and neighbouring constituency MP, co-chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Dark Skies with Astronomer Royal Martin Rees in 2020 and, whilst I was unable to be part of it as a sitting minister, I very much recognise how deeply important the beauty of our night skies are. Six UK National Parks, including the South Downs National Park, have already been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status.
The APPG called on the Government to implement new legislation to control and mitigate light pollution across the UK, including recommendations on strengthening planning policy, overhauling industry standards on lighting products and increasing engagement & awareness of the issue.
The National Planning Policy Framework already requires that planning policies and decisions should “limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.” The statutory nuisance regime requires that local authorities take reasonably practicable steps to investigate complaints of artificial light emitted from premises which could be damaging to human health. MDSC states that any form of artificial light ‘shining out of the area it needs to illuminate is considered light pollution.”
Naturally, there is always room to go further in the substantial progress that has already been made.
The Government’s consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework focuses on delivering the right homes in the right places and giving local people a greater say on where to place new developments. The type and quality of lighting products should be considered from the offset and, to impact development at the planning stage, organisations should engage with local planning authorities to ensure strong emphasis is placed on this. Non-statutory consultees in the planning process can make a crucial contribution in this regard and help guide the strategic direction of local efforts.
I am aware that the management of street lighting in England and Wales is the responsibility of local highway authorities, which have a duty under the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the public highways in their charge, including street lighting.
The Department for Transport recognises that light pollution (and excessive use of lighting) can pose some social, economic and environmental problems and local authorities are therefore being encouraged to consider best practice when making decisions about lighting on their networks such as replacing them with more modern technologies like LED lighting units to reduce glare.
These initiatives are supported by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the British Astronomical Society. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also published assessments on the impact of artificial lighting and will continue to work with partners, including leading scientists, to review the latest studies related to light pollution. However, I understand that central Government has no powers to override local decisions in these matters or intervene in these types of local issues.
While not all streetlights and other lighting can be turned off, I believe this work on dark skies has significant potential to reduce overall light pollution and raise awareness about this important issue.
I understand that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities intends to undertake a fuller review of the framework later in 2023, and I look forward to considering the proposals in due course.