Light pollution

Light pollution is best described as artificial light that is allowed to illuminate or pollute areas not intended to be lit. 

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 amended the definition of 'statutory nuisance' to include artificial light emitted from premises.

This does not apply to artificial light from:

  • an airport
  • harbour premises
  • railway premises
  • tramway premises
  • a bus station and any associated facilities
  • a public service vehicle operating centre
  • a goods vehicle operating centre
  • a lighthouse
  • a prison

A statutory defence of "best practicable means" will be available to:

  • artificial light emitted from industrial, trade or business premises
  • artificial light emitted by lights used for the purpose only of illuminating an outdoor sports facility

The lighting of many of these facilities is also currently controlled by planning legislation leaving the focus of the new provision on domestic security lighting.

Preventing domestic light pollution

Before going to the expense and effort of installing lights consider the following points:

  • Is lighting necessary?
  • Could safety/security be achieved by other measures such as the screening of an area?
  • Do the lights have to be on all night?
  • Install the right amount for the task - for domestic security light a 150w lamp is usually adequate. High power (300/500w) lamps create too much glare reducing security. For an all night porch light a 9w lamp is more than adequate in most situations.
  • Correctly adjusted lights only illuminate the surface intended and do not throw a light onto neighbouring property. Set the angles of all main beam lights to below 70 degrees.
  • Make sure security lights are adjusted so that they only pick up movement of persons in the area intended and not beyond.
  • Direct light downwards. If up lighting has to be used then install shields or baffles above the lamp to reduce the amount of wasted upward light.
  • Do not install equipment which spreads light above the horizontal.

Reporting a problem with light pollution

Quite often the person being complained about is simply unaware of the problem existing and an informal approach initially by the person affected will in most cases resolve the situation.

In most cases all that is required is the proper placement of fixings, sensors, lights and shielding accessories or replacement by lower wattage lights.

If you are experiencing light pollution from your neighbours, try approaching the owner of the offending light, politely requesting:

  • re-angling or partial shading of the light
  • fitting of a passive infra red sensor
  • using a lower power bulb

It might help if you can show the neighbour the effect of the light from "your side of the fence". You can also politely suggest to the owner that they may be wasting money on excessive lighting.

Lights do not always deter criminals (the main insurers do not offer any reductions in premiums for exterior lighting).

Most light pollution problems do not fulfil the criteria of a "nuisance" given the specialist meaning of that word in the act. Statutory nuisance is not defined by "annoyance" and it is narrower than "nuisance" in common law. Perceived aesthetic "damage" can not be taken into account either as statutory nuisances are essentially about public health and whilst lights briefly turning on and off, triggered by cats and foxes, may be irritating to light-sleeping people with thin curtains, they will rarely, if ever, be harmful.

Further information