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Light pollution

Report a nuisance complaint

What is light nuisance?

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 has brought artificial light from premises under the statutory nuisance regime as of 6 April 2006. Light pollution is best described as artificial light that is allowed to illuminate, or pollute, areas that should never have been lit. The following will constitute a statutory nuisance under this act:

"Artificial light emitted from premises to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance"

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

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.

What to do if you are suffering from artificial light nuisance from premises

If you are concerned about light nuisance coming from a neighbour's garden, a local business or manufacturer, often the best way to deal with the problem is to go straight to the source.

Consider talking to the person or company responsible for the light nuisance and point out the problem. You may find that they are unaware that they are causing a disturbance. Remember we may all be guilty of creating a nuisance from light nuisance at some time without knowing it. The problem is not always one of inconsiderate behaviour.

Taking formal action

When informal action is not possible or fails, you can resolve the problem by taking formal action. The most common route involves complaining to the local authority about the light problem. Local authorities can investigate such complaints. Under sections 79 to 81 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 local authorities can deal with light nuisance from premises that they consider to be a statutory nuisance. If you want to make a complaint about light nuisance you should contact the council's Health & Environmental Services who will investigate the matter. If an environmental health officer is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists or is likely to occur or recur, formal action can be taken. A notice could be served on the person responsible for the light nuisance or, in certain circumstances, the owner or occupier of the premises. There is no set level at which artificial light from premises becomes a statutory nuisance.

Avoid causing light pollution:

  • do not fit unnecessary lights
  • do not use excessively bright lights, a 150 watt tungsten halogen lamp is quite adequate, 300 or 500 watt bulbs are too powerful for domestic security lighting
  • do not leave lights on when they are not needed, consider controlling lights with passive infra-red detectors, ensuring that they are correctly aligned and installed (for a porch light that is going to be left on all night, a nine watt compact fluorescent lamp is normally adequate)
  • when aiming floodlights make sure you only light the area that needs lighting (the aim of the floodlight can easily be checked at night when you can see the actual area being lit)
  • be careful not to put light onto other people's properties or into windows, as this can be very upsetting and a constant source of complaint

If a neighbour does approach you about your security lamp listen carefully and try to understand their complaint. If you can adjust the light to shine in a different direction or angle it down to reduce the light onto or into their property tell them that is what you will do and when you will do the work.

If after adjusting the angle and aim of the floodlight it is still causing annoyance and upset then consider fitting a hood or shield to control and restrict the light to the area to be lit.

Many people install tungsten halogen floodlights. These units can provide satisfactory security lighting if correctly installed and aimed, however, it is rarely necessary to use a lamp of greater than 2000 lumens (150W) in such fittings. The use of a higher power only causes more glare and darker shadows. Glare affects our ability to see and dark shadows offer a convenient hiding place for criminals.

Many of these floodlights are fitted with detectors to sense the movement of intruders. Unfortunately if they are badly installed they can detect small animals roaming around the garden causing the light to switch on and off throughout the night. This can be a nuisance to neighbours.

Movement detectors can be useful if they are correctly installed and aimed. Unfortunately, many systems do not allow the detector to be separately aimed from the floodlight.

Remember when buying such equipment check to see if the detector can be separately aimed or better still purchase a separate detector, which can be installed in the best position and correctly aimed to minimise un-necessary switching.

Floodlights and detectors should be aimed to only detect and light people on your property. They should not detect a person or animals walking down the street. If the floodlight is fitted with a timer, this should be adjusted to the minimum to reduce the operation of the light.

For many properties, a better solution for security lighting is to use a bulkhead or porch lights fitted with a low power 600-900 lumens (9/11w) compact fluorescent lamp. These units can be left lit all night, providing all night security, for only a few pounds of electricity per year.

Besides being cheap to run, this type of light is kinder to the environment providing a gentle wash of light with reduced glare. Bulkhead and porch lights cast fewer shadows reducing the hiding places for criminals. These units can be fitted with a movement detector if required. These units are generally mounted lower and are therefore less susceptible to nuisance switching and complaints from neighbours.