A few days before Christmas on 14th December a Parliamentary debate in the House of Commons took place which was organised by the MP for Arundel and South Downs under the very short title of Dark Skies. He explained in his opening remarks that “I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group for dark skies with my noble Friend Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal.” The details of that All Party Parliamentary Group is available here and it is encouraging that it involves a significant number of people (23 altogether) from different political groups as well as several cross party (or non political) members of the House of Lords. For those of us who live in Sussex, the involvement of Peter Bottomley as well as Andrew Griffith is also very encouraging. The challenge for this theme is that when our current Government arrived back in 2010 they quickly tore up a number of very effective agencies including the Regional Assemblies and the Regional Development Agencies that had been in existence for about a decade and they were beginning to resolve some of the issues that included dark sky issues. It is very clear to people like myself who participated in these agencies that this would have been a classic way of achieving the objectives discussed in this debate. The Regional Assemblies brought together the Council Leaders from across each region and these people constituted 70% of each Assembly. The balance of 30% came from several areas which included a small number of the public sector agencies such as the NHS and Education. Of the remaining sector, half were from a broadly business background and indeed these people were also strongly connected to businesses including property developers through the matching Development Agencies. The other half were made up of a number of voluntary sectors and an even smaller number of environmental agencies which included an agency called CPRE (see the reference below). Although the members of the Regional Assemblies outside of the Council Leaders were small in numbers, they were able to work very well in helping to influence and advise the Council Leaders and when the Regional Assemblies worked with the Government and Councils is establishing a Regional Planning structure, issues such as how to reduce lighting pollution and indeed many other forms of pollution were dealt with very well. Perhaps some of the current MPs and indeed a future Government could once again attempt to transfer some of their activities into a collaborative regional agency that would have the contribution from Councils and other sectors. Clearly such an approach would require persuading party politicians that they cannot dominate every inch of decision making which is why the Conservative Ministers in the 2010 Coalitional Government destroyed the Regional Agencies without considering how to then resolve matters such as constructive planning at a less national and more than local level. Anyway just to provide a few of the words expressed on the 14th December see below. Along with Andrew Griffith I have included a few words from the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Christopher Pincher. His boss is Robert Jenrick and about 10 years ago Robert’s predecessor was Eric Pickles who appears on the right hand side of the image above and who dissolved the regional agencies to satisfy his personal ideas. Sadly had they remained they would have been dealing very effectively with these issues already.
Andrew Griffith: Sadly, light pollution is growing exponentially in its geographic coverage and population reach. CPRE’s recent annual star count found that 61% of UK citizens live in areas with severe light pollution, meaning that they could count fewer than 10 stars in the Orion constellation. That was a 4% increase in light pollution on the previous year. The case for controlling light pollution is not just for the benefit of astronomers, just as it is not only ornithologists who would miss songbirds if they disappeared from our gardens. It also has health, educational, environmental and economic benefits…..Light pollution is a huge waste of energy too. Lighting accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions—that is more than aviation and shipping combined. Within that category, street lighting is the single biggest contributor.
Christopher Pincher: Conversely, we encourage local planning authorities to produce and publish locally specific lists of non-statutory consultees, thereby helping applicants to refine their proposals in a way that can balance the needs of the built environment with wider considerations. I suspect that there will be a role for Members of Parliament, including members of the APPG, in that regard. It is important to remember that being a statutory consultee does not give any organisation a right of veto over a planning proposal or decision. This ultimately rests with the local planning authority as the decision maker in the first instance. As we move to our new upfront planning system that places much greater emphasis on holistic and strategic design, I suspect that there will be opportunities for such stakeholders to have and to play an important role.