Andrew Bissell gives evidence to House of Lords on designing for dark skies

23 April 2023

On 28 March, in his role as President of the Society of Light and Lighting, Ridge Lighting Design Partner Andrew Bissell, gave evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, which is considering the effects of artificial light and noise on human health. Andrew was joined by three industry colleagues from the Institution of Lighting Professionals.

Andrew spoke about the progress that has been made in combatting light pollution in our night skies, but argued that the focus of such efforts needs to shift more toward the largest light polluters of all – our towns and cities. He acknowledged the progress that has been made in designing out light pollution at national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but warned that we are lagging when it comes to urban light pollution, both direct light pollution into people’s homes and general night sky glow.

In relation to the latter, Andrew pinpointed tall and glass buildings as well as media façades, rather than street lighting, as the major causes. He argued that progress should already have been made in this regard, given that the 2009 Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution had acknowledged the issue already.

Andrew stated his belief that the aims of designing to protect dark skies and of delivering vibrant, interactive, luxury lighting installations are not mutually exclusive – that we can create enjoyable light displays while avoiding damage to night sky views if we take a considered and precise approach from the outset.

As part of this theme, Andrew repeated his proposal that dark sky certification schemes which currently exist for reserves, parks and communities should be adapted to include cities, towns and large developments. He observed that, currently, the criteria for the amount of up light and spill light permitted in a national park is quite strict, but 10 or 15 times more light spill onto an urban building façade can be considered acceptable – it is this imbalance, Andrew argued, that needs to be corrected if we are to restore pristine dark skies for towns and cities as well as we have done for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

He made the case that there needs to be a concerted effort by all local authorities, not just some, to achieve these goals. He cited his experience working in places like Cumbria, Northumberland and Wales to design out light pollution and the great advances that have been made in places like the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) and Eryri (Snowdonia) due to proactive approaches to the issue by local authorities. Andrew said that this energy needs to be replicated across the UK if we are to enhance wellbeing and allow future generations to enjoy the same dark skies their ancestors knew for thousands of years.

Such an outcome would be greatly aided, Andrew observed, if local authorities had access to the data and information they need to progress the issue – with fewer, but better, guidance documents made available and more sharing of information between authorities. He also argued that we need more data about the health and wellbeing impacts on both humans and wildlife of light pollution, to help convince public and private clients of the necessity of a considered dark skies lighting design strategy.

Andrew heads up the Ridge Lighting Design team and has more than 26 years’ experience in all aspects of lighting design, including a longstanding passion for helping to restore the UK’s dark skies and protect them from light pollution. To hear more of the evidence given by Andrew, and that of his three fellow expert committee witnesses, you can watch the proceedings here.

If you would like to talk to him about how your projects can incorporate interesting and enjoyable lighting strategies while protecting the night sky, please contact him at andrewbissell@ridge.co.uk

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