Artificial light nuisances: how councils deal with complaints

Common causes of artificial light nuisance, lights that are exempt and how councils can assess light.

Applies to England

Councils must look into complaints about artificial light from premises if the light could be classed as a ‘statutory nuisance’ (covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990).

For the artificial light to count as a statutory nuisance it must do one of the following:

  • unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises
  • injure health or be likely to injure health

If they agree that a statutory nuisance is happening, has happened or will happen in the future, councils must serve an abatement notice. This requires whoever’s responsible to stop or restrict the light. The notice will usually be served on the person responsible but can also be served on the owner or occupier of the premises.

Natural light is not covered by statutory nuisance laws.

What can cause artificial light nuisances

The following can cause an artificial light nuisance if they’re not maintained or used properly:

  • security lights (domestic and commercial)
  • sports facilities (like floodlit football pitches)
  • decorative lighting of buildings or landscapes
  • laser shows and light art

Artificial light not covered by statutory nuisance laws

Statutory nuisance laws don’t apply to artificial light from:

  • airports
  • harbours
  • railway premises
  • tramway premises
  • bus stations
  • public transport operating centres
  • goods vehicle operating centres
  • lighthouses
  • prisons
  • defence premises like army bases
  • premises occupied by visiting armed forces
  • street lights

Business, trade, industrial and sports club premises: special rules

If a business, trade, industrial or sports club premises is served with an abatement notice and they’ve used the best practicable means to stop or reduce the light nuisance, they may be able to use this as one of the following:

  • grounds for appeal against the abatement notice
  • a defence, if prosecuted for not complying with the abatement notice

How artificial light nuisances are assessed

When looking into complaints about potential light nuisances, councils can assess one or more of the following:

  • whether it interferes with the use of a property
  • whether it may affect health
  • how it’s likely to affect the average person (unusual sensitivities aren’t included)
  • how often it happens
  • how long it lasts
  • when it happens
  • whether it’s in the town or country

There are no set levels for light to be considered a statutory nuisance.

Published 7 April 2015