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Light Pollution

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009

7. What recent representations he has received on regulation of light pollution; and if he will make a statement. (296306)

DEFRA has received two recent representations, one about current legislation to tackle light nuisance, the other about future proposals to address light pollution.

Despite responding positively to the Science and Technology Committee’s 2003 report, the Minister’s Department and the Department of Communities and Local Government have yet to provide a draft annexe to planning policy statement 23 to make local planning authorities take light pollution as seriously as other types of pollution. When will guidance be published so that all local authorities can ensure that light pollution is prevented or minimised?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. DEFRA is no longer involved in the light pollution aspect of the DCLG’s PPS23. The DCLG is now the lead Department on that, and that work is on hold pending its decisions on planning policy reform. However, I am in regular contact with my ministerial colleagues in DCLG on issues such as rural housing, and will raise the matter with them when I next have the opportunity, which I anticipate being next week, and I will ensure that the annexe about which he is concerned is published as soon as possible.

I recognise that the Minister might be the wrong person to ask, given that this matter is no longer his responsibility, but has any model or trial ever been produced with regard to highway or local authority lighting on which we can call?

As I mentioned, we are not the lead Department on this matter. However, I shall take my hon. Friend’s point away with me and ensure that it is raised with the respective Minister next week.

When the Minister meets his colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, will he remind them of a report produced by the then Department of the Environment called “Lighting in the Countryside: Towards Good Practice”? That was published 12 years ago and highlighted the danger of poorly planned lighting schemes in rural communities and market towns. Since then, very little has happened. As an MP who represents a constituency that contains some of the darkest areas in England, the matter is hugely important to me and my constituents.

One of the difficulties is the close relationship between quality of street lighting and levels of crime, which the Conservative council in Bury recently discovered to its cost when it planned to switch off the street lights in the middle of the night. When my hon. Friend speaks to his colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, will he ask them to look at the experiment currently taking place in Toulouse in south-west France with motion-sensitive street lights? Might that not be a model for the United Kingdom to follow?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that safety has to be taken seriously when considering switching off any lighting. However, that does not mean that lights should not be switched off in some situations. I am interested in the Toulouse experience, and I am sure that technology will provide the answer to those challenges in the future.

When the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which I was a member, recommended in 2003 that light pollution be covered by statutory provisions in legislation, the Government agreed. However, local authorities, which regard light pollution as seriously as water or air pollution, can do nothing until the Government, through whichever Department, produce their planning policy statement. When will that happen?

I hope that it happens soon; indeed, that is my understanding. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman strongly that the issue is about safety as well as saving the environment, and there is no easy answer to that. Councils that have considered the issue seriously have often pulled out. I hope that he will recognise that there are many shades of grey in this complex issue. We need to get it right and allow local authorities to do the same.