Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 05 May 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained about high levels of light intrusion into her property after the Council replaced two street lights outside her home. We found fault with how the Council considered the light falling on Mrs X’s property. The Council agreed to reassess the light falling on Mrs X’s property from the street lights and to review how it approaches these assessments in future. This was a suitable remedy so we completed our investigation.
- Mrs X complained about high levels of light intrusion into her property after the Council replaced two street lights outside her home. Mrs X said the glow from the street lights caused light intrusion in her home affecting her sleep, ability to relax in her living room and sense of privacy. She also said the Council ignored the evidence she sent about the light intrusion and refused to assess or measure the light intrusion to her home. She wanted the Council to install a shield to prevent the light intrusion or reduce the brightness of the street lights.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mrs X provided and discussed the complaint with her.
- I considered the Council’s comments on the complaint and the supporting information it provided.
- Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before making a final decision.
What I found
Legal and administrative background
- The Highways Act 1980 states the highway authority, in this case, the Council, can construct and maintain lamps, posts and other works they consider necessary for the purpose of the highway.
- Councils should 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.
- Councils should also consider the need to avoid unacceptable obtrusive light from street lights. The Institute of Lighting Professionals has introduced specific guidance notes for reducing obtrusive light (ILP guidance notes). These recommend light limits dependent on the residential setting but are for guidance only.
- The Council replaced the street lights outside Mrs X’s home in May and July 2020 with new LED street lights.
- Mrs X said one of the previous lights had a shield to prevent light falling on her property and coming through her windows but the new lights do not.
- Mrs X complained to the Council three times between August and September 2020 that light from the new street light was shining on her house and through her windows. She told the Council this was affecting her ability to sleep and relax in her home. Mrs X sent photographs of the light falling on her home to the Council and asked it to visit and measure the light shining on her house.
- The Council did not respond to Mrs X’s first complaint.
- The Council responded to Mrs X’s later complaints, telling her that because the output of the new light was significantly lower than the old light, it would not take any action.
- In response to my enquiries, the Council recalculated the light falling on Mrs X’s property. It pointed out that these levels are lower than those is has calculated for the previous lights.
- It is not our role to decide if the light falling onto Mrs X’s property is too high; that is the Council’s responsibility. Our role is to assess whether the Council made its decision properly.
- The evidence shows, when considering Mrs X’s complaint, the Council focused on whether the amount of light falling on Mrs X’s property was lower than the previous lights. In its response to my enquiries the Council’s stated “the change in light falling on to the properties [sic.] windows has been calculated before and after the LED upgrade.”
- This was not the correct question. Instead, the Council should have considered whether the amount of light falling on Mrs X’s property was acceptable. It does not matter whether this is less than previously calculated if the current levels are still too high. The Council’s failure to consider the proper question was fault. This caused Mrs X avoidable uncertainty as it is not clear if the light falling on her property is within acceptable limits.
- The light falling on Mrs X’s property as calculated by the Council is up to four times the maximum level recommended in the ILP guidance notes for areas similar to where Mrs X lives. The Council has not explained why it considers this amount of light falling on Mrs X’s property acceptable.
- When considering if the amount of light is acceptable, we would expect the Council to assess this against an objective standard or guidance and to provide reasons for its decision.
- I am also satisfied the Council failed to respond to Mrs X’s first complaint from August 2020. This was also fault causing further frustration to Mrs X.
- Within one month of my final decision, the Council agreed to:
- apologise to Mrs X for not responding to her first complaint in August 2020 and for the delays in considering her complaint properly;
- measure the light falling on Mrs X’s property from both street lights at night and decide, with reference to appropriate criteria, whether this is acceptable;
- if it is not, take remedial action to reduce the light falling onto Mrs X’s property to within acceptable levels. If the Council considers the light level is acceptable, it should write to Mrs X and explain how it has reached its decision; and
- provide evidence of the assessment and any action it has taken to the Ombudsman and to Mrs X.
- I have completed my investigation and I uphold Mrs X’s complaint. There was fault with how the Council considered Mrs X’s complaint about the light falling on her property from the street lights. The Council agreed to measure the light falling on Mrs X’s property and decide whether it needs to take action to reduce the light levels. It also agreed to review the way it deals with similar complaints to prevent the same fault in future.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman