A session on lighting and planning, delivered by two planning policy officers from nationally protected landscapes. Paul Fellows is Head of Strategic Planning at North York Moors National Park Authority, which along with the Yorkshire Dales National Park was granted International Dark Skies status in December 2020. Natalie Beal is a policy planner at the Broads Authority. Both are Members of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Natalie and Paul will deliver an hour long session that will be in three parts. Firstly, an introduction to how the planning system works. They will then focus on how lighting can be influenced through the planning system. Finally, they will give a planner’s view on the 10 policy proposals from the Dark Skies APPG.

Speakers: Natalie Beal MRTPI, Broads Authority and Paul Fellows MRTPI from North York Moors.

Hosted by: Matt Fisher EngTech AMILP, YLP Chair and Ryan Carroll IEng MILP, YLP.

You can view a useful handout here.

Q&As

Will applications for developments in an Enterprise Zone + Employment Zone, in an AONB always trump objections from ‘members of the public’ because the applicant can always appeal to the Sec of State?

Local Planning Authorities will always carefully look at comments from the public if these relate to land use matters – and the strength of objections can count. However, both the LPA and the Secretary of State still have to decide against the same policies in the local plan and other material considerations. They may come to a different decision on the ‘planning balance’. The appeal system is there if the applicant thinks the local authority has arrived at the wrong conclusion on this planning balance. It’s not the case that an appeal will ‘always’ trump objections – the appeal is there to provide a second opinion if the applicant think the authority should have arrived at a different decision.

(Enterprise Zones are specific areas designated which offer tax breaks and a much simplified planning system – aimed at encouraging businesses in industrial areas.)

As lighting is not considered in the planning development at application, I have seen it dealt with in the planning conditions, this needs to be consistent to control spill and upward light. Is anything being done on this?

Lighting can be considered at the application stage – if it’s part of the design of a new building. When we say lighting is often not ‘development’ (and thus does not need permission) this relates to lighting ‘on its own’ and small enough to not be development or any interior lighting.  For lighting as part of a new scheme the Development Management Officer would liaise with an applicant about any issues that are of concern, including lighting and seek a resolution which could see changes to the proposal. Conditions could be attached to the application relating to light pollution and dark skies, which can be monitored and enforced if need be.

In terms of asking if anything is being done about light pollution, dark skies and planning applications, some local plans and some Neighbourhood Plans have policies on light pollution and all applications are assessed against relevant policies of these plans.

In those areas that do not have policies on light pollution, it is down to stakeholders to comment and raise the issue as a concern or the Development Management Officer to identify and address the issue. But the NPPF is limited in terms of light pollution and seems to only protect the darkest areas.

Lighting proposals that conflict with Guidance (e.g., GN01) can be ignored by Applicants at will – how much weight can be given to ‘Guidance’?

Guidance is just that, guidance – you can’t attach much weight to it in decision making. Where it is relevant is where plans have policies, which may refer to guidance therefore giving the guidance greater weight in decision making. The Broads Authority’s policy refers to the ILP Guidance for example. Guidance can explain how an applicant can comply with a policy, but it’s the policy that has to be used to make the decision. So, it all really depends on whether there are local policies on protecting dark skies as to the prominence of light pollution in decision making.

There is a large variation between planning policies, such that planning is a post-code lottery, particularly with respect to obtrusive light policy. Do you see this changing to ensure that poor quality lighting cannot be installed?

Different areas have different policy priorities – so you will end up with different approaches to assessing new development in different areas. You wouldn’t expect the same approach to new development in a National Park being applied in a city centre for example. Not all Local Plans will have a policy relating to dark skies and light pollution.

Whether there will be changes in terms of more uniform approaches to planning for obtrusive lighting will largely be down to how many of the APPG’s recommendations are taken forward, and the Government’s own approach to how it deals with lighting in the new planning system. Plus of course, we’re seeing an increasing interest in dark skies, so it’s likely that we will see more plans directly tackling their protection.

Given major sky glow has the biggest impact on your National Park area night sky, for example the core area of the NYMNP DSR is less than 13%, what actions would you like to help this impact?

The whole of the North York Moors is a Dark Sky Reserve – the core area is the darkest bit – so we will be expecting to see all relevant applications take account of dark skies. As mentioned, new development is a very small proportion of all development, so we are working with landowners with existing developments to reduce lighting through grants and advice – and we’re finding them very receptive and interested to do so. It’s also about raising the profile of the need for dark skies which we do in lots of ways, including working with accommodation providers and through our annual dark skies festival.

Depending on a list of acceptable ‘dark skies’ equipment appears to me to have little value if the project isn’t designed properly. What controls are placed on the design process?

I think this may refer more to installation than design. So, a well-designed light is one thing, how it is installed correctly to reduce impacts on dark skies is another.

If the lighting needs planning permission or it is part of a scheme seeking permission, then there will be conditions attached to that application which need to be met. Something about dark sky friendly lighting and installation could be a condition. If these conditions are not met in full, then enforcement action can be taken and that could result in the installation improved.

If no permission, but in a dark sky place, then a hearts and minds approach can be used to try and work with the occupier to reduce the impact of the light on dark skies by installing it in a better way.

If does not need permission and not in a dark sky then, sadly, options are very limited.

As a recent graduate, this is a very interesting webinar. But what would be the focus point when designing a ‘Dark Sky Friendly’ lighting?

Fundamentally, look at the things that cause light pollution and design them out. If you look at the International Dark Skies guidance you can boil it down to lighting needing to make sure there is no upward light (known as ‘fully cut off’ or shielded) and with a colour temperature of 3000 Kelvins or fewer. There’s some good examples on their website: https://www.darksky.org/our-work/lighting/lighting-for-citizens/lighting-basics/.

…or the IDAs own guidance on obtrusive light is a good place to find out more.

Good installations can be ruined if the ground reflects too much light back into the sky. How should this be controlled?

I would think this would be rare – and suggests the light might be too bright. It can be picked up as a design issue in application for new development but it won’t come in for planning if someone just wants to install a light.

I have SQM readings for Malvern Hills AONB, every 2 mins for 9 years, inc. a 2012 geographic survey, and all sky camera pics at 30sec intervals for clearest nights. I do time plots and histograms. Latest project completed measure back scatter ratio over last year from up lights on/off. I applied this to a planned housing development around Reepham Observatory Norfolk, to get sky luminance form ground reflection, the plans avoid any direct lighting seen from observatory but ground reflection and atmos, scatter give 1 mag./sq. arcsec loss. I can generate profiles across the sky from my own curve for profiles. No lighting design program does this. Could be used for planning impact assessment?

First of all, that’s impressive.

As for using that approach, it sounds like something that would definitely help a planning application (or environmental impact assessment) in terms of understanding lighting/dark skies in the area and in allowing the local authority to negotiate design with the applicant. However, any planning application would need to be decided in accordance with the policies and standards used by the local authority, as well as other ‘material considerations’ along the lines of those mentioned in the presentation.  

Some of us were able to contribute to the APPG “10 policies” document and I feel that there are a lot of positive ideas in the document. Do you think that it will make a difference and how many of the policy ideas do you think will be adopted?

We agree, there seems to be logic behind all the policies. And if they are put in place, I am sure they will make a difference to light pollution and dark skies. A lot will depend on the detail of who, when and how. We would argue that things need to be as simple as possible when it comes to assessing a planning application – local planning authorities are already under a lot of pressure and many, many things needs to be taken into account when deciding applications.

We think the APPG has already done a world of good in terms of raising the profile of the issue. There’s always a push in planning to make things simpler and quicker so the ideas that will be taken forward will be ones that are simple to work in practice – if we can get to a point where anyone is able to know whether a light is ‘dark skies friendly’ in that it meets some national standard or a locally adopted standard that’s a big win.

How can you stop a contractor putting up a bright 6000K £15 floodlight with no optical control on a barn in an E1 zone?

If the lighting installation is part of a scheme that needs permission, then we can address it using policies in the Local Plan/Neighbourhood Plan and the NPPF.

But if the lighting installation is not part of an application, if it is put up and not deemed development, then there is nothing we can do in planning. Environmental Health may be a route to take.

In dark sky areas, one of the commitments for such a status, is to work with businesses and the community to try to solve any lighting issues through maybe grants and/or hearts and minds. So, in this instance, that could be an approach.

What are your thoughts on the likelihood of the full implementation of the APPG’s policies? If/when might they be brought forward as legislation?

As we understand it, the Government did not necessarily ask for the APPG policies.

On occasion, the Government may commission a review of certain things/issues (like the Pitt Review into flooding) and may or may not take on board recommendations of that review. It is up to the Government about how they take them on board, if indeed they will. However, the APPG has certainly raised awareness at a crucial time when the Government is about to fundamentally ‘re-engineer’ the planning system. As part of this design is being emphasised more as an important consideration. So, lighting could be part of the design codes and maybe be part of the review of planning.

It will be for you and us and the newly formed UK Dark Skies Partnership, and the APPG themselves, to respond to consultations and try and get the message across about dark skies and light pollution.

Issues on installation being compliant with the design. If the planning control had the design risk assessment, and the signed and accepted installation contractors drawing stating that the installation is compliant with the design, issues of light spill and mis orientation of the lighting may be transferred to the contractor / designer to resolve as an instruction.

Noted. A few things need to happen for this to take place. First of all, you probably need a Neighbourhood Plan and Local Plan to have policies that seek to address light pollution. And unless the policies ask for these things (and I have noted them down for as and when I review my policies), you are relying on the applicant to submit these things as part of any application. Then it will be for the Development Management Officer to attach a condition related to light pollution/dark skies that means there is some come back on the applicant to ensure the lighting is installed correctly. The Local Planning Authority would not instruct the contractor; it would be for the applicant to ensure the development is built out according to conditions. See next about enforcing conditions.

What about use of conditions and removal of PD rights when giving the original permission?

When permitting an application, the permission will often have conditions attached. Failure to meet those conditions can result in enforcement action. Lighting could indeed be one of those conditions. We monitor conditions on various applications to ensure that they are met.

Yes, conditions can be attached to permissions that seek the removal of PD rights. We do this quite often. That means that any changes that would be PD ordinarily, now need to come in for full permission. This will only be helpful in addressing light pollution if the lighting element of the scheme is part of the application.

For both of these approaches, unless it is deemed as development, an occupier can install lighting without permission.