Despite a growing body of evidence showing the harmful effects of light pollution on people, wildlife and the wider environment, current legal powers are very limited. This contrasts sharply with much more comprehensive legislation covering Air, Noise and Water pollution. 

For tackling existing light pollution, the only direct legislation is contained in The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, Section 102 : ‘artificial light emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or nuisance.”(1) Overall this Act provides local authorities with more effective powers to tackle poor environmental quality and anti-social behaviour, including nuisance and abandoned vehicles, litter, graffiti, waste, noise and dogs. For artificial light, ‘nuisance’ it is a source of light that in the opinion of a local authority public health professional, who makes an assessment on a case-by-case basis, which interferes with someone's use of their property and/or might be prejudicial to someone's health.

The light must come from premises in order to be a statutory nuisance and potentially be a criminal offense. For you to have a claim the lighting must be 'prejudicial to health or a nuisance' and harm your enjoyment of your land. This will rule out quite a lot of problem lighting, because you cannot make a complaint about lighting affecting common land, parks, open access spaces, etc.. Equally, street lighting is not deemed to come from 'premises', so unfortunately street lights are not covered. 

For trying to prevent new sources of light pollution, it is a ‘material consideration’ within the policy based, discretionary planning process. Government guidance covering the issue of lighting(2) states:

‘Artificial lighting needs to be considered when a development may increase levels of lighting, or would be sensitive to prevailing levels of artificial lighting. Artificial light provides valuable benefits to society, including through extending opportunities for sport and recreation, and can be essential to a new development. However, for maximum benefit, it is important to get the right light, in the right place and for it to be used at the right time…. Artificial light is not always necessary. It has the potential to become what is termed ‘light pollution’ or ‘obtrusive light’, and not all modern lighting is suitable in all locations. It can be a source of annoyance to people, harmful to wildlife and undermine enjoyment of the countryside or the night sky, especially in areas with intrinsically dark landscapes. Intrinsically dark landscapes are those entirely, or largely, uninterrupted by artificial light. National parks and nature reserves can serve as good examples, particularly where they support habitats for native nocturnal animals.’

Most decorative and security lights attached to existing buildings are often erected without needing planning permission (or just put up without checking!). Internal lighting, which shines through large glass frontages on buildings or sky lights also falls outside the remit of the planning system, are a growing contributor to light pollution, especially in largely dark unlit rural areas. 

To conclude, powers to control and prevent light pollution are very limited and highly discretionary. Decisions on new lighting are piecemeal, where lots of individual additional lighting are being added causing cumulative sky glow light pollution. It’s another classic case of ‘tragedy of the commons’ where we seem incapable of conserving and sustainably managing the earth’s common environments whether on land, the seas or in the air and sky!

(1). http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/16/section/102

(2). https://www.gov.uk/guidance/light-pollution#what-light-pollution-considerations-does-planning-need-to-address