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Light nuisances and light pollution

What Is Light Nuisance?

Section 102 of the Clean Neighbourhoods Act 2005 amended the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to include a new form of legal nuisance namely "artificial light emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance". This means light that affects the normal use of a person’s property may be classed as a statutory nuisance.

Typical light nuisance complaints

The most common complaints relate to light from domestic and commercial security lights and light from sports facilities, but some complaints relate to domestic and commercial decorative lighting.

Are all lights covered by this legislation?

There are exemptions where lighting is required for reasons of preventing crime and disorder or for safety, namely:

  • 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
  • premises occupied for Defence purposes

The legislation cannot be applied to streetlights as a light nuisance has to be from light on a premises, and streetlights are not associated with a premises.
There is also a defence for all trade, industrial, business or outdoor sports facilities that the “best practicable means” to prevent light pollution is being taken.

Is light nuisance the same as light pollution?

No. Light pollution is a broader term and also includes “sky glow”, the cumulative effect of artificial lights in towns and cities which wastes energy, disturbs the natural cycles of wild animals and birds and disrupts astronomers' view of the stars.

How can I prevent my lights causing a light nuisance?

Well designed and installed security lighting should not cause a light nuisance. When installing light you should bear the following in mind:

  • It is possible security could be achieved by other means than by lighting
  • It is unlikely you will need a security light of greater than 150W power. Higher power lights can be counterproductive as they produce dark shadows allowing intruders to hide
  • For security lights the detector should be aimed so it detects people on your property, not passers by in the street or small animals in your garden. Ideally buy a light fitting where the detector can be aimed independently of the light.
  • If the light fitting has a timer adjust this to the minimum to reduce operation of the light
  • Aim the light so it does not put light onto other people’s properties. The main beam should be below 70 degrees
  • Consider installing a hood or shield to reduce the area lit
  • Bulkhead or porch lights also provide lighting but operate at a much lower power (9W) than fluorescent lights. They can be mounted at a lower level and produce a continuous gentle wash of light with very few shadows
  • Do not install unnecessary lights
  • If approached by a neighbour with a complaint adjust the direction or angle of your light to address the problem

What to do if you have a light nuisance problem

Contact the source yourself

We encourage complainants to try to resolve the matter informally by making a direct approach to the person responsible for the light, either in person or by letter. If you have discussed your complaint with the source, but failed to improve the situation, or you do not feel able to contact your neighbour about a problem for any particular reason, you can then ask the Environmental Protection Team to investigate.

Contact the Environmental Protection Team

We investigate an alleged light nuisance in the same way as we investigate other reported nuisances. We make an evidence-based decision and consider several factors including:

  • The brightness and duration of the nuisance (how long does it last for when it happens, seconds, minutes or hours?)
  • The frequency of the nuisance (how often does it happen, daily, weekly or once in a blue moon?)
  • The seriousness of the nuisance (does it materially affect someone's use of their house? What room(s) does it affect? The usual critical factor is whether it disturbs sleep).
  • The sensitivity of the complainant (is the person who is complaining 'ordinary' or overly sensitive to the light?)
  • The location of the premises (urban or rural)

In the first instance we ask you to complete a diary for two weeks. We also write to the source drawing their attention to the complaint.

Some lights are irritating but do not constitute a statutory nuisance. For example if the excess light could be resolved by installing ordinary curtains or blinds it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance. If the light is sufficiently intrusive that blackout blinds are required it may be a nuisance.

If the presence of a statutory light nuisance is substantiated the Council will issue an abatement notice requiring the source to ensure light does not cause a nuisance to others. This does not mean they must remove the light. Often redirecting the light will resolve the problem.

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