Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 28 Apr 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman found no fault by the Council on Mr Y’s complaint about it failing to properly consider the impact of light spillage on to his property when it replaced a nearby street sodium lantern with an LED one. The Council responded and acted on his concerns. It visited and took light meter readings which show levels to his property within guidance target levels.
- Mr Y complains the Council failed to properly consider the impact of LED light spillage on to his property when it replaced the previous sodium lighting system: as a result, light from the nearest lantern affects his sleeping, his health, and prevents him from enjoying his hobby of night sky observation and photography.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
Legal and administrative background
- Councils are responsible for the erection and maintenance of street lighting in their area.
- 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.
- 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). This recommends light intrusion into windows in a suburban area should be no more than 10 lux before curfew and 2 lux after curfew for light in to windows. The Council’s curfew is 11pm.
- The ILP guidance notes also recommend various ways of reducing light intrusion such as using shields and hoods. The recommended light limitations are for guidance only.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered all the information Mr Y sent, the notes I made of our telephone conversation, the photographs he sent, as well as the Council’s response to my enquiries, a copy of which I sent him. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Mr Y and the Council. I considered their responses.
What I found
- To the rear of Mr Y’s home is a pedestrian alleyway on which there is a street light, about 6 metres high and 5-6 metres from his home. The Council decided to replace the existing sodium lantern on it with a new LED (light emitting diode) lantern. As a result, the new lantern not only illuminates the alleyway beneath it but also his rear garden and bedroom windows. This disturbs his sleep, even with blackout blinds and curtains, and prevents him from carrying out his hobby of night time space photography because of light spillage. He is also unhappy because the new light does not switch off at midnight like the previous one.
- The Council explained it introduced a 10-year light replacement scheme in 2014 under which it would replace all sodium lanterns with LED ones.
- In 2017, it reviewed its policy and decided to provide all night lighting. This meant lanterns were not switched off at a certain time during the night.
- The Council accepted it is difficult for this street lantern to only illuminate the alleyway and not surrounding areas. Fitting a shade did not reduce the light spillage to Mr Y’s home. When replying to Mr Y’s complaint about the impact the new LED lantern had on him, the Council said, ‘we cannot take an individual’s circumstances into consideration’. To be consistent across the whole authority, its decisions are made, ‘following an agreed process and policy’.
- In response to his complaint, the Council explained when introducing its policy, it knew it could not satisfy everyone. So, a policy and design process based on British Standards was approved in 2014 for street lighting. This allows it to apply the same principles to all areas, which meant providing a consistent approach.
- In response to my enquiries, the Council said:
- Lighting levels and standards are assessed using the street lighting design software package. The recommended level is found in the British Standards codes of practice;
- The lighting levels at this location are less than previous levels;
- The lantern has a front light shield installed;
- Lighting levels were measured, and photographs taken, during site visits after installation;
- It considered alternative lanterns within limits of the contract;
- It installed a shield round the lantern which Mr Y said had not helped;
- The lantern is dimmed by 50% at 11pm and the lantern is never used at 100%;
- An offer to speak on the telephone, or meet subject to COVID-19 restrictions, was refused by Mr Y. Mr Y said he refused to meet because he was ‘shielding’;
- It considered reducing the height of the column, which it decided would reduce light on the footpath. Titling the lantern down resulted in directing light on another neighbour’s property. Making a larger shield would invalidate the guarantee of the lantern and expose the Council to claims of negligence if it fell. It offered to remove the column if the parish council wished it to do so but heard nothing back from them; and
- It cannot apply discretion when installing the lanterns because it has 31,000 street lights and 255,000 residents.
- The Council’s website states:
- it is committed to reducing the impact on the environment in the form of its carbon footprint which means ensuring, ‘new and replacement lighting schemes minimise environmental impact such as light spillage and intrusion’;
- Light pollution is reduced with less light spilling into the sky and gardens, meaning driveways and doors do not get illuminated; and
- It uses latest technology to minimise light pollution.
- In the introduction to its Street Lighting Policy (October 2018), the Council states inappropriate lighting contributes to nuisance and can cause light pollution. The policy goes on to state, when assessing replacement lighting schemes, it must consider, ‘environmental issues such as light spillage and intrusion’.
- The ILP guidance notes state, ‘In areas with low ambient light levels, glare can be very obtrusive, and extra care should be taken when positioning and aiming light equipment’.
- My role is not to make my own assessment of whether light spillage on to Mr Y’s property is excessive. It is to look at whether, and how, the Council considered this potential impact on Mr Y when it installed this new light and how it responded to concerns he then raised about it.
- Before examining what the Council did, I need to make it clear that street lights cannot cause a statutory nuisance.
Council’s actions up to installation:
- I make the following finding on this complaint:
- As the Council has pointed out, it is responsible for 31,000 street lights and has an administrative area containing 255,000 residents.
- I found no fault with the Council’s decision not to take individual circumstances in to account when rolling out its new LED lighting. To do so would require it to proactively contact and assess those who might be more adversely affected by the changes than others. It would then need a system for assessing and deciding whether a person is adversely affected.
- I consider requiring it to take account of individual circumstances in this way would place an unreasonable and unacceptable burden on it which, in turn, would have severe implications both in terms of its resources and its ability to implement new schemes.
Council’s actions after installation:
- I make the following findings on this complaint:
- Where a resident contacts the Council about problems caused by new or replacement street lighting, it is appropriate for it to consider and assess the report received.
- I note Mr Y contacted the Council in November 2020 asking whether it could fit a shade to the street lantern. The Council reacted promptly by arranging to fit a shade within a week. Later that month, Mr Y told the Council the shade had made no real difference.
- The Council responded to Mr Y’s suggestions about what it could do to reduce light spillage on to his property. It explained: larger shades, or reducing the height of the column, would not help as it would reduce the amount of light to the footpath; light to his bedroom window was less than the ILP guidance notes; lighting is dimmed after 11pm by 50%; it could not install side shields because the aim was to try and spread light sideways along the path; installing side shields would reduce lighting along the path.
- The Council provided graphs of light comparisons before and after the installation of the new lanterns. These show less light in his garden and on his property with the LED lantern. The Council confirmed officers went out to measure the light using a light meter on the public highway. The measurements taken were consistent with those produced by the software. It calculated, for example, the target for light at the bedroom window was 2 lux after 11pm. The actual calculated reading was 0.13 lux. This compared to 3 lux previously. This means the light levels are within the recommended range.
- The graphs of light levels at this site before and after the replacement of the lantern support the Council’s claim about lower light levels with the new lanterns.
- I found no fault on this complaint. It responded to his suggestions and concerns. It took some steps to try and resolve the problems Mr Y experienced. In doing so, it had to also give weight to the overall objective for the lantern in this location which is to illuminate a public footpath.
- The Ombudsman found no fault on Mr Y’s complaint against the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman