Science

Light pollution must be controlled for the sake of future generations, MPs claim 

Light pollution is a ‘blight on the night sky’ that is obscuring our view of the stars and should be controlled for the sake of future generations, a group of MPs claim. 

An influential cross-party coalition of MPs and Peers have set out ‘ten dark sky policies’ they say the government should introduce to tackle the ‘night blight crisis’. 

They published a report that highlights ‘big gaps’ in the legal framework and planning process when it comes to regulating against the impact of light pollution. 

A recent survey by the countryside charity CPRE found that 61 per cent of people in the UK are living in areas with severe levels of light pollution.  

The MPs say the UK must join countries such as France and South Korea that have already legislated for the improved protection of dark skies, with approaches that focus on planning regulation, light curfews and metrics limiting light output.

A debate will be held in Parliament on Monday 14 December to discuss government policy on dark skies and promote the proposals in the new report. 

Levels of light pollution varies across the UK. This is an image showing a vibrant Milky Way over the landscape of Norber Ridge and stone barn in the Yorkshire Dales National Park where levels are relatively low and more of the sky is visible

Among the proposals to tackle the issue is a call for a minister and statutory commission for dark skies in order to enforce new rules and improve oversight.

Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and Co-Chair of the parliamentary Dark Skies group said the case for controlling light pollution has scientific, educational, environmental, aesthetic and economic dimensions.

‘It’s a deprivation for us all to never see a dark night sky,’ he added.

The most recent Star Count, undertaken in 2020 by countryside charity CPRE, found that 61 per cent of people in the UK are living in areas with severe light pollution. 

Other images, including this one showing street lights in Swindon, can lead to heavy levels of light pollution blocking out much of the night sky and leaving few stars visible

Other images, including this one showing street lights in Swindon, can lead to heavy levels of light pollution blocking out much of the night sky and leaving few stars visible

This was a rise in the number of people experiencing severe light pollution from the previous year when 57 per cent of people taking part fell into that category.

Andrew Griffith MP, founder of the parliamentary Dark Skies group, represents Arundel & South Downs, which contains one of the UK’s Dark Sky Reserves.

He has previously called for special recognition of the UK’s dark skies and suggested that the next draft of the National Planning Policy Framework be used to preserve and restore the ability of future generations to see the milky way on a dark night. 

‘We need to act now so that future generations may still be able to see the stars and the Milky Way – something that is already impossible in many parts of the country.’

‘New development, bad lighting and ‘horizon pollution’ are a growing threat and we want to see these proposals tabled in Parliament and adopted by the Government.’ 

Lord Rees echoed this, adding that ‘the government should implement modest changes in the planning and regulatory system that could stem and indeed reverse the current trend. 

‘Such measures would certainly earn the gratitude of the next generation and would surely command broad support today.’

The group set out ten proposals to achieve improvements in the light pollution levels including updating existing legal frameworks, improving standards for lighting and offering incentives to councils implementing dark sky policies.

The most recent Star Count , undertaken in 2020 by countryside charity CPRE, found that 61 per cent of people in the UK are living in areas with severe light pollution

The most recent Star Count , undertaken in 2020 by countryside charity CPRE, found that 61 per cent of people in the UK are living in areas with severe light pollution

As well as more oversight and changes to existing planning rules, they want the government to consider new incentives for councils and lighting regulations. 

Commenting on the policies recommended by the APPG, Emma Marrington, CPRE, the countryside charity’s dark skies campaigner said a starry night sky is one of the most magical sights the countryside has to offer.

‘Light pollution means many people don’t get to experience them. It’s high time that action is taken nationally and locally to stem the flow of unwanted light,’ she said.

LIGHT POLLUTION IS ARTIFICIAL LIGHT THAT IS EXCESSIVE, OBTRUSIVE AND WASTEFUL 

Light pollution, also known as photopollution, is the presence of anthropogenic light in the night environment.

Artificial light that’s excessive, obtrusive and ultimately wasteful is called light pollution, and it directly influences how bright our night skies appear. 

With more than nine million streetlamps and 27 million offices, factories, warehouses and homes in the UK, the quantity of light we cast into the sky is vast. 

While some light escapes into space, the rest is scattered by molecules in the atmosphere making it difficult to see the stars against the night sky. What you see instead is ‘Skyglow’. 

The increasing number of people living on earth and the corresponding increase in inappropriate and unshielded outdoor lighting has resulted in light pollution.

Most people must travel far from home, away from the glow of artificial lighting, to experience the awe-inspiring expanse of the Milky Way as our ancestors once knew it. 

‘This would not only save money but would help to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, while limiting the impacts of light pollution on our health’

In a study by CPRE nine in ten people said gazing up at a sky full of stars had a positive impact on their wellbeing. 

‘That’s why we are urging the government to pursue the ten dark sky policies recommended by the APPG for Dark Skies,’ said Marrington.

‘This includes introducing national legislation to reduce light pollution. Action now will mean more people than ever will be able to experience the wonder of a truly dark starry night sky in years to come.’  

New regulations could include legal limits on the amount of blue light emitted from bulbs used in public areas and a all lights sold to come with instructions to control obtrusive light, as well as dark sky friendly mounting instructions.

They say the government should also issue penalties for non-compliance. 

The other side of this is a new ‘best practice’ model to be rolled out nationally including Dark Sky Hours where certain lights are turned off in consultation with police, communities and local authorities to ensure it is safe to do so. 

The MPs also suggest the government give local authorities the power to create voluntary ‘Dark Sky Town or City’ classifications that can be adopted locally. 

The authors of the report, published on December 9, say that increasing evidence suggests reducing light pollution can improve wellbeing.

While it is a commonly held belief among the public that brighter outdoor spaces at night are safer from both traffic and crime perspectives, there is little empirical evidence to support this intuition, they claim. 

Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggest that crime and road collisions do not increase in switched-off or dimmed areas.

‘Conversely, a growing amount of evidence suggests that light exposure at the wrong time has profound impacts on human circadian, physiological and neurocognitive function,’ the authors wrote in the report. 

They say it also has an impact of wildlife, placing greater stresses on the ecosystems by forcing earlier budding of trees and a drop in insect numbers.  

TEN ‘DARK SKY POLICIES’ TO TACKLE LIGHT POLLUTION 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dark Skies has called on the government to take ‘urgent action’ to tackle light pollution. 

They have set out ten policies to do this including updating existing legal frameworks, improving standards for lighting and offering incentives to councils implementing dark sky policies.

  1. Strengthen the National Planning Policy Framework: for the first time ever, make extensive specific reference to the control of obtrusive light in the National Planning Policy Framework.
  2. Expand the scope of the planning permission process: introduce regulations for exterior lighting that are similar to those which currently cover advertisements.
  3. Strengthen Statutory Nuisance Provisions: remove exemptions to give local authorities a more effective method of preventing nuisance lighting. 
  4. Create a statutory Commission for Dark Skies: setup a statutory body to punish non-compliance and empowering local authorities and councils to enforce regulations. 
  5. Set standards for the brightness and colour temperature of lighting: establish legal limits to the amount of blue light that luminaires can have in their spectrum and encourage manufacturers, distributors and installers of lighting to adopt best practice in this area.
  6. Set standards for the direction and density of lighting: introduce a legal requirement that all lighting units are sold and distributed with instructions for the control of obtrusive light and dark skies-friendly mounting instructions and issue penalties for non- compliance. 
  7. Create ‘best practice’ use for lighting: design a national program of best practice ‘Dark Sky Hours’ in which categories of lighting can be either dimmed or turned off completely in consultation with the community, lighting professionals and local police. 
  8. Appoint a designated ‘Minister for Dark Skies’: give a new cross-departmental Minister a clear remit for the control and prevention of light pollution, as well as oversight of planning and environmental policies that concern dark skies. 
  9. Create a ‘Dark Sky Towns & Cities’ initiative: give local government the power to go further to reduce light pollution by creating a voluntary ‘Dark Sky Town/City’ classification.
  10. Emphasise the role of education: work with educational and cultural institutions and NGOs to achieve widespread public awareness of the issue of light pollution.

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