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Light nuisance

The Clean Neighbourhood & Environment Act 2005 amended the list of statutory nuisances under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to include light nuisance. Certain types of premises are exempted from these provisions and these generally relate to transport undertakers such as rail, airport and public transport facilities, but also to premises such as prisons.

Streetlights are unlikely to qualify as artificial light nuisance, as a nuisance must emanate from premises, and highways are not normally deemed to be "premises".

Unlike residents, the occupiers of industrial, trade and business premises have a defence of best practical means (BPM) available to them under the Environmental Protection Act, as the law recognises that in some circumstances, commercial activities may give rise to complaints as a consequence of carrying out their business. Providing they have taken reasonable steps to minimise the nuisance, they will not be deemed to cause a statutory nuisance. The Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act specifically extends the BPM defence to all outdoor, relevant sports facilities.

Is light pollution the same as light nuisance?

Light pollution may affect the beauty of the night sky and our view of the stars etc but it is not a light nuisance. A nuisance is not the same as an annoyance, and "statutory nuisance" has a narrower meaning than "nuisance" in common law. A statutory nuisance either has to be a significant interference with the use and enjoyment of one's property or be harmful to health.

There are no set levels of light above which a statutory nuisance is, or may be caused. The investigating officer will take account of a range of factors including:

  • Duration
  • Frequency
  • Material interference with use of property or personal comfort
  • The nature and character of the local environment.
  • Whether the light is due to unreasonable behaviour or commonplace action
  • Sensitivity of the complainant - statutory nuisance cannot take account of undue sensitivity due to, for example, age, health, occupation or personal preferences.
  • Number of households affected

If you are installing outdoor lighting, first consider

  • Is the lighting really necessary?
  • Will the light affect others? (consider the direction of the beam, and try to keep the illumination within the boundary of your own property)
  • Do the lights need to be on all of the time?
  • Could security be better achieved in another way?
  • Where sensors are used to trigger lights, are these able to be set to avoid accidental triggering?
  • Is the proposed lighting too powerful for the intended use?
  • There are energy savings to be made by using less powerful lamps and restricting the time that they are switched on
  • Is the light directed downwards?

You may have good reasons to install exterior lighting on your property but always consider your actions carefully, and take steps to prevent it from becoming a nuisance. It is normally possible to set up lights without them upsetting other people.

If you are affected by nuisance lighting from your neighbours

As with other nuisance problems, if you are affected by light nuisance it is advisable to approach the owner of the lighting, in the first instance, outlining your concerns. There may be a straightforward solution through minor adjustments to the lighting system that will resolve the problem. Often the lighting owner may not be aware that their system is giving rise to a problem.

First, try approaching the owner of the offending light, perhaps 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".