Light Pollution and the Law


Update!

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 now makes light nuisance subject to the same criminal law as noise and smells. It applies to "artificial light emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance".

For more information, please see our Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 webpage.

For astronomers: please see the article "Light pollution now subject to the criminal law of statutory nuisance" that appeared in the British Astronomical Journal [pdf version; see page 7]


Introduction

Light pollution or nuisance, involves several associated problems: light nuisance (the unwelcome intrusion of light from nearby premises, epscially into bedrooms), sky-glow (damage to the night sky environment above), and glare, which causes discomfort and may be a hazard to road users and pedestrians.

Until April 2006, victims of light related nuisance have one action open to them, they may take a civil action in private nuisance out against the offender, where they will have to prove the existence of the nuisance (usually defined as an adverse state of affairs interfering with an individuals use and enjoyment of his/her property). Such actions have been successful, e.g. Bonwick vs Brighton and Hove Council (2000) and the more recent Bacon case (2004). After April 2006, all victims may complain to their local Environmental Health Office (at their local council), or take an action themselves in the Magistrate's Court. See the Journal of the British Astronomical Association [pdf file] for more on the new law.

In the case of new developments, the best method of dealing with light pollution is at the planning stage, pre-empting any light waste by influencing the design of lighting schemes via the planning department of your local council and by aiming at the insertion of lighting clauses in your councils local plan.

Courses of action

  1. If you are in an dispute involving lighting, you should take plenty of notes. You should carefully record all the instances when the offending lighting is causing a nusiance (e.g. The light has been on for over an hour for 15 nights within the last month.)
  2. Approach the offender in a diplomatic, friendly manner. This succeeds in the majority of cases, when adjustment of the lamp or of timings will sometimes be all that is needed. Offenders often do not realise that they are causing a problem. Be polite. It has been estimated that nearly 70% of cases are resolved in this way.
  3. If a polite approach fails, contact your councils Environmental Health Officer, who may be willing to mediate.
  4. Be aware of proposals for lighting locally, and make sure that the Planning Officer is acting positively on this aspect of developments.
  5. Mediation: many areas have mediation services, which may prove quicker and cheaper than going to law. Ask your local authority about this, or contact Mediation UK, Alexander House, Telephone Avenue, Bristol BS1 4BS, Tel: 0117 904 6661, e-mail: [email protected]
  6. If all else fails, you could sue the offender. You will be expected to use the small claims court in the county court if your claim is for less than 5000 in compensation. Here there system puts complainant and defendant together without the use of solicitors and barristers, so keeping the costs down and the procedure less formal. It is recommended that this is a last resort, but full information about the procedure and the necessary forms are available at http://www.courtservice.gov.uk

British law compared...

British law is, unfortunately, since some way behind laws in other European countries (e.g. the Czech Republic and Italy).

From May 2005, two new laws to control light pollution are now in force in Italy. They are the Umbria and Abruzzo regional laws. Both impose a (0 cd/klm) light intensity limit at and above the horizon (Fully Shielded) for all new fixtures, private or public alike, over all their territories. One of them in particular (Abruzzo region) introduces a new step in controlling light pollution by imposing a maximum growth (1% per year) in the municipalities electric consumption for external lighting. This limit on the consumption is a spur to better efficiency. This will give rise to the following interesting situation: if more lights are needed for a new street, and this will exceed the 1% limit growth, the installer can replace some old and less efficient fixtures to comply with the new law.

In Italy, there are now some 13 regional laws over 20 regions. Five of these laws impose fully shielded (above the horizon) fixtures all over their territories.


References

Many papers now cover the topic of light pollution and the law, including:

  • "Light Pollution and Nuisance: The Enforcement Guidance for Light as a Statutory Nuisance", Morgan-Taylor, Journal of Planning & Environmental Law, 2006 [pdf version]
  • "Light pollution now subject to the criminal law of statutory nuisance", Morgan Taylor & Mizon, Journal of the British Astronomical Association 115, 3, 2005, p 125-126; [pdf version; see page 7]
  • "Light Pollution and the Law", Morgan Taylor, Sky at Night Magazine, Jan 2006, 33-35;
  • Exterior Lighting as a Statutory Nuisance, Morgan Taylor & Hughes, Journal of Planning Law, p1135-1144, 2005 [Download PDF];
  • Mizon, "Light Pollution, Responses and Remedies" (Book by Springer-Praxis, London, 2002) [Buy from Amazon.co.uk];
  • Hughes and Morgan Taylor, "And Can't Look up and See the Stars" (2004) 16(2) Journal of Environmental Law 215-232; [pdf version]
  • Jewkes, P., "Light pollution and the law: what can you do?", Journal of the British Astronomical Association 108, 5, 1998, p258-260 [Download from ADS, various formats];
  • Jewkes, "Light Pollution: A Review of the Law" (1998) Journal of Planning Law, 10-22;
  • Morgan Taylor, "And God Divided the Light From the Darkness: Has Humanity Mixed Them Up Again?" (1997) 9(1) Environmental Law & Management 32-39;

Related News items

December, 2004
BBC News:
OAP's soccer floodlights victory
"A former mayor has won a court battle over the light pollution from floodlights at a leisure centre pitch near his home. Mr Bacon was awarded 600 costs and the authority was told to pay his 7,900 costs. The council said work had been carried out so that Mr Bacon no longer suffered from the light nuisance.
Mr Bacon said he had suffered "three years of hell" from the effects of the lights, which are about 60 yards from the back of the house he shares with wife Barbara, also 76."


December, 2004
The Daily Telegraph: Switch that light off or face a fine
"Light pollution is to become a statutory offence, enabling people to take on neighbours whose lights stop them from sleeping. Under a Bill published yesterday, anyone who finds that artificial light emitting from premises is "prejudicial to health or a nuisance" will be able to complain to the council. If the offender takes no action, he or she could face fines of up to 50,000."
See also the House of Commons website

December, 2004
The Seattle Times: Legal fever hits Chinese society
"A store across the street put up lights that shone into Zhao Jin's bedroom in Shanghai, China. He sued to have the lights turned off, and he won. "They violated my living space," Zhao says."

November, 2004
BBC News: Queen's Speech at-a-glance
"Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill
This will give local councils more powers to tackle fly-tipping, abandoned cars, noise nuisance and light pollution, with measures such as spot fines. "

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