Lighting Regulations and Policies

Outdoor lighting regulations are a great tool for ensuring that councils implement good, safe outdoor lighting. Well-written regulations, with proper lighting installed, will save the public money and increase safety.

  • How can you identify if your community has lighting regulations?
  • How to ensure lighting regulations are enforced
  • How to advocate for a lighting regulations

How to Identify if Your Community Has Lighting Regulations

Contact your local council and ask, or check your city’s website to see if you can search its laws and regulations. If you can’t find the relevant information on the website, try a web search using your town or city’s name along with the words “lighting regulations.”

Key phrases that you are looking for in these regulations are; “outdoor lighting,” “exterior lighting,” “light pollution” or “light trespass.”

Your search may turn up policies that regulate specific types of lighting; a common example of this is language in an ordinance regulating outdoor signs that incidentally mentions lighting. Look for search results that suggest a general and freestanding policy, which tends to be comprehensive in nature. Often these sections will be headed with simple descriptive titles like “Outdoor Lighting”. If you don’t find this, it’s a good bet that your community doesn’t have an outdoor lighting policy.

How to Ensure Lighting Regulations are Enforced

Many towns and DarkSky advocates think that the adoption of lighting codes/laws/policies is the end of their efforts. Instead, it’s often the beginning and ongoing education is key. Otherwise, a community might forget why it even adopted the original code and how it helps its citizens. The details of code enforcement may or may not be spelt out in the outdoor lighting regulation itself, so check the code to be sure. Many regulations are complaint-driven, but there are things to look out for before making a complaint about someone’s lighting:

  1. First, DarkSky recommends always having friendly neighbourly discussions with lighting offenders before making a complaint to the local government.
  2. Second, some codes have a grandfathering provision exempting lighting that was in place before the ordinance was passed. If your city has such a provision, many older lights may be exempt (e.g. listed buildings). There may be other exceptions or conditions in the code too, so be sure to look for those before making a complaint.

If a complaint is valid, then city officials might need to make a nighttime site visit to verify the claim. Often they’ll be reluctant to – that’s understandable as most of us don’t want to work beyond our normal work schedule. Stick to the facts (rather than making an emotional appeal), but be persistent when discussing your concerns with city officials. Remember that while your city works for you, it’s likely that the code enforcement office has too much to do and not enough resources to get everything done at once.

How to Advocate for an Outdoor Lighting Ordinance

Getting new laws passed is a lengthy process. A good way to start is to make an appointment with a member of city staff, the mayor or your councillor or MP. Don’t worry if your first meeting ends up being a short one. It’s entirely possible that your local officials don’t know what a lighting policy is or why one would be needed. It’s also very important to be prepared with relevant and objective information (you might want to check out our Lighting for Policy Makers webpage). Keep the discussion focused on the positive outcomes for the city and try to anticipate any questions that the officials might ask about costs and safety issues.

DarkSky UK has many resources that can assist you, which you can find in our “members” section.

In developing a new policy, there will be many factors to consider. Beyond the basic shielding requirements, DarkSky UK recommends that an ordinance address light trespass, lighting curfews and spectrum (see our LED guidelines)

There are a host of other questions that need answering, including

  • Should lighting zones be adopted?
  • Are any special considerations needed to protect environmentally sensitive areas or an astronomical observatory?
  • Should the new rules be applied to older, non-conforming lighting?
  • Should there be a timeline for when all lighting must be brought into compliance?