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Torbay Council (19 019 326)

Category : Transport and highways > Street furniture and lighting

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 09 Nov 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained about high levels of light intrusion into her property after the Council completed road improvements at a junction behind her house. She said glow from the street lights had affected her sleep. The Council did not assess the level of light intrusion at Mrs X property following her complaint. That was fault. The Council has offered to complete a lighting level test. That remedies any injustice caused.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complained about high levels of light intrusion into her property after the Council completed road improvements at a junction behind her house. Mrs X said the glow from the street lights had caused light intrusion in her home affecting her sleep. She also said the Council failed to follow the recommendations made in an ecological survey and was concerned about the impact the street lighting may have on the local bat population.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. We may investigate matters coming to our attention during an investigation, if we consider that a member of the public who has not complained may have suffered an injustice as a result. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26D and 34E, as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I discussed the complaint with Mrs X and considered the Council’s responses.
  2. I asked the Council questions about the street lighting and how it had responded to Mrs X’s complaint.
  3. Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Legal and administrative background

  1. The Highways Act 1980 states the highway authority can construct and maintain lamps, posts and other works they consider necessary for the purpose of the highway.
  2. Councils are expected to meet the relevant British Standards when installing new street lighting. British Standard (BS) 5489 is the Code of Practice for the design of road lighting.
  3. Councils should also consider the need to avoid unacceptable light intrusion from street lamps. The Institute of Lighting Professionals has introduced specific guidance notes for the reduction of intrusive light (ILP guidance notes). These recommend light limitations dependent on the residential setting but are for guidance only.

What happened

  1. The Council completed road improvements on a junction at the rear of Mrs X’s house in 2019. The improvements included a new carriageway which resulted in the Council installing additional street lighting. It also replaced old street lighting with new LED street lights.
  2. Mrs X complained to the Council about the height of the lights in September 2019. The Council responded and said the lighting design was the minimum requirement for the width and alignment of the junction. It said light shields were installed to prevent excessive light pollution to properties on her road. It did not uphold the complaint.
  3. The residents on Mrs X’s road made a further collective complaint. They said they were not consulted about the height of the new street lights; the light pollution was obtrusive to residents at night and was destructive to the local bat population.
  4. The Council’s response to their complaint said:
    • It had consulted about the improvement scheme but did not have a duty to consult further about the lighting within the scheme as the lighting needed to be suitable for the classification and type of road.
    • It had installed 10 metre high street lights to reduce the number of street lamps needed, rather than install shorter columns and more lights.

It had installed the columns so that as much light as possible was directed away from residents’ properties, but that meant the columns were installed closer to property boundaries.

    • The LED lighting reduced power consumption and provided more direct light.
    • The ecological survey had not identified any trees offering roosting for bats in the site area and the site size was considered lower value for bats. The survey had suggested using ‘best practice technology’ to reduce light wavelengths and minimise levels of UV light. The Council said that new technology was included in its lighting scheme.
  1. The Council did not uphold the residents’ complaint. Mrs X remained unhappy and brought the complaint to the Ombudsman.
  2. In response to my enquiries the Council said it inspected the lights after the residents’ complaint, to see if additional measures were needed to reduce light pollution into nearby residential properties. It assessed the street lights as fit for purpose and concluded it had already provided as much additional shielding as possible. It said it did not have case records of the inspection.
  3. The Council said it did not measure the output of the street lights before and after their installation or measure the level of light intrusion into the residents homes. It has now agreed to complete an inspection but states this is not standard practice.

My findings

  1. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached.
  2. The Council has been unable to provide case records of the site visit it completed following the residents’ complaint. As there is no record, we cannot know for certain what time of day the visit took place. The Council said it did not measure the level of light intrusion at Mrs X’s property. As Ms X and other residents had complained to the Council about the amount of intrusive light at night, we would have expected the Council to complete a site visit at night to measure the light levels and using the relevant professional guidance, consider whether the levels of light intrusion were acceptable. The Council failed to do that. That was fault. That fault has caused Mrs X and the other residents’ uncertainty as it is not clear if the level of light intrusion complained of is within acceptable levels.
  3. The ecological survey said that any site lighting design should minimise light spill on retained and new habitats. It required the Council to use new technology to reduce light wavelengths and minimise UV light. The Council states it has incorporated these technologies into the design and the introduction of LED lighting. The Council implemented the findings of the ecological survey in its lighting scheme. The Council was not at fault.

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my final decision the Council has agreed to complete a street light assessment for Mrs X’s property, and the other residents who complained, to ensure the highways lighting levels are in accordance with the design and do not exceed appropriate levels for the public highway.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault for failing to assess the level of light intrusion at Mrs X’s property following Mrs X’s complaint about intrusive light. The Council has offered to complete a street lighting assessment therefore I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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