When used wisely, artificial light can extend opportunities for sport and recreation, and it can enhance security and safety in and around our homes and on our roads. However, when it is used unwisely, artificial light can be a real nuisance, becoming pollution that undermines our enjoyment of the countryside and especially of our night skies. We cannot overlook how much energy is wasted by unnecessary lighting, as we work together on achieving our climate change net zero goals.
The Government are aware of the effect that poorly located artificial light can have, not just on residents but on wildlife, not least in its capacity to interrupt their nocturnal habits. There is increasing evidence that lighting can also have far-reaching effects on biodiversity and nature. The Government recognise these issues and are taking action.
There are complexities surrounding the policy and legislation that govern artificial light. Responsibility for its monitoring and regulation crosses several Departments and also falls to local authorities. Ministers have put in place a range of measures to ensure that light pollution is effectively managed through controls in the planning system, the statutory nuisance regime, and when improvements are made to street lighting. The Government’s intention has been to utilise the planning system to get the lighting right from the outset. Local planning authorities can require applicants to submit a lighting strategy with their planning application, and they can consider on a case-by-case basis what conditions are appropriate. Likewise, I know that the Government is committed to ensuring that noise is managed effectively in order to promote good health and quality of life and protections are in place to avoid significant noise impacts through our planning system, our environmental permitting systems, in vehicle and product standards, and the noise abatement legislation.
I am aware that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published or contributed to a range of assessments of the impact of artificial light on insects and wider biodiversity, and are keeping relevant, externally funded studies under review. The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan will also deliver benefits including promoting access to stargazing.
The National Planning Policy Framework sets out how the possible ecological impacts of artificial light should be considered in the planning system. I am encouraged that this Framework makes clear that policies and decisions should limit the impact of light pollution on local amenity, dark landscapes and nature conservation, including where there may be impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. It is supported by guidance; it emphasises the importance of getting the right light in the right place at the right time; and it helps local planners and developers to design in ways of avoiding glare and intrusion.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has worked closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to revise and reinforce the planning practice guidance on light pollution that the Government published in 2019. The guidance emphasises the importance of getting it right from the outset, because lighting schemes can be costly and difficult to change. That approach will help to ensure that lighting design is carefully considered at the outset, to avoid harsh glare and obtrusive effects and to help to safeguard our environment.
I welcome the designation of the South Downs and Exmoor National Parks as International Dark Sky Reserves, two of only 16 in the world. As a result of this designation, these National Parks have incorporated local policies to protect dark skies. The adoption of these local policies is strongly encouraging and I understand their extension to other National Parks is now under consideration.
Across the UK's 15 National Parks there are a number of locations that have been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve or Dark Sky Discovery Site status. Defra has no formal role in the Dark Sky designation process as it is non-governmental and non-statutory. The Independent Review of Landscapes recommended, ‘A night under the stars in a national landscape for every child.’ The Government has welcomed the Review and will respond in due course. We are committed to increasing opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy the benefits of spending meaningful time in our national landscapes in England.
The Government is engaging with National Park Authorities on a range of matters including the delivery of the 25-year Environment Plan, which will deliver benefits including promoting access to stargazing, and the Landscapes Review recommendations. The Independent Review of Landscapes recommended, ‘A night under the stars in a national landscape for every child.’ The Government has welcomed the Review and will respond in due course. The Government are committed to increasing opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy the benefits of spending meaningful time in our national landscapes in England.
The Government has put in place a range of measures to ensure that light pollution is effectively managed through controls in the planning system; the statutory nuisance regime, and when improvements are made to street lighting.
Defra, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Department for Transport have worked together to ensure that the National Planning Policy Framework policies include consideration of the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation, including where there may be impacts on wildlife and eco-systems.
Light pollution also has a potentially significant effect not just on rural areas but on our towns and cities too. Street lighting is an important issue and it needs to be considered carefully when balancing the competing priorities of maintaining road safety and avoiding light pollution. The Department for Transport is therefore encouraging all local authorities to replace their street lighting, wherever feasible, with more modern technology such as LED lighting units, as such alternatives can greatly reduce the amount of glare emitted. Action is being taken by Highways England on replacing poorly performing lighting and that these initiatives are supported by those with interest in preserving our dark skies, such as the CPRE and the British Astronomical Society.