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Campaigning for a starry starry night

Campaigning for a starry starry night Photo: © Andrew Whyte

CPRE has long been a leading national voice in the campaign against light pollution. We have a special interest in the issue: darkness at night is one of the key characteristics of rural areas, but light can spread for miles from the source blurring the distinction between what is rural and what is urban.

Light spilling up into the night sky is also a waste of energyEmma Marrington and money – local councils were estimated to spend £161 million on street lighting in 2013/14 – and the lights can account for between 15-30% of a council’s carbon emissions.

First ever policy to control light pollution

Following our successful decade long campaign, along with the British Astronomical Association’s Campaign for Dark Skies, a planning policy to control lighting was introduced in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012. It states: ‘By encouraging good design, planning policies and decisions should limit the impact of light pollution on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.’

CPRE survey of councils and how they manage lighting

We wanted to find out whether this policy has had an impact on how councils plan lighting in their areas, as well as how they manage street lighting. We ran a survey earlier this year and 83 councils took part, from every English region, and the results were published as our Shedding Light report. The key findings were that:

  • Out of 76 councils 65% had a policy to control lighting, which means that they would give careful consideration to the type of lighting used on new development or changes to existing development. Only six of these were new policies due to the NPPF
  • Councils can save hundreds of thousands of pounds each year by either switching off street lighting in suitable locations between midnight and 5am, or dimming lights. The schemes can also reduce carbon and save energy
  • Councils told us that communities are far more supportive of dimming schemes (68%) than switching off streetlights between midnight and 5am (10%).

The survey also explored what types of lighting councils install. LEDs were the most popular, although there are concerns about the potential impact of the bluer LEDs on ecology and human health. We also asked councils whether they would install new lighting in previously unlit areas and many responded that they wouldn’t unless there were exceptional reasons to do so.

We concluded the report with eight recommendations of how councils could improve their approach to lighting and one recommendation directed at the Highways Agency asking them to update the guidance that is used when lighting motorways and main roads.

International conference on light pollution

On 4 September, we presented the findings of the Shedding Light report at an international conference about ‘Artificial Light at Night’ (held at De Montfort University in Leicester). The event attracted a wide range of people from around the world who are working to tackle the spread of light pollution and was a vital forum to share knowledge and experiences. For us at CPRE, and the three county CPRE branches that were also there, it was a galvanising experience but also saddening that light pollution has become such a global problem.

New maps of light?

Many people will know about our light pollution maps of the UK in 1993 and 2000. It was startling that light pollution increased by 26% in England between those years. We’re hoping to secure funding to commission new light pollution maps of the UK in 2013, which will be almost twice as detailed as our previous maps. It will certainly be interesting to find out whether light pollution continues to spread despite efforts by councils to manage lighting more effectively.

What do you think?

We're not saying no to any lighting – it’s about the right light, in the right place, where and when needed. But surely a dark starry sky – nature’s own light show – is more beautiful than skies awash with light pollution?

Find out more

Download our Shedding Light report (3.3MB PDF)

Read more about our view on dark skies

View Emma's profile


It will certainly be interesting to find out whether light pollution continues to spread despite efforts by councils to manage lighting more effectively

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