The Planning Authority in collaboration with the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has launched draft guidelines which primarily seek to provide advice on how light pollution can be reduced or even avoided, particularly in cases of existing bad lighting installations.
Artificial light offers valuable benefits to society. It provides for the possibility to continue with educational, leisure, recreational, travel and economic activities well beyond the daylight hours. However, if used inappropriately, artificial light can be a nuisance and is harmful to human health and wildlife.
Anthony Borg who is the Chairperson of the committee tasked with drawing up these guidelines pointed out that “we must not underestimate the health hazard that light pollution brings with it. Today, we are more familiar with speaking about air, waste and noise pollution but studies related to the effects of unnecessary man-made light have only started to emerge over the
past years. Although we must not be alarmists, we must address the negative impacts and look at ways how we can improve our quality of life. Us humans, like most life on Earth, adhere to a day-night cycle. Studies show that exposure to artificial light at night-time suppresses the production of melatonin in our body which is an important antioxidant which reduces the risk of cancer”.
One of the major causes of light nuisance results from the spill-over of light. Simpler put, it is external artificial light which goes beyond the area that is meant to be illuminated. While today external energy-efficient LED luminaires are one of the top lighting solutions on the market, few
speak about the high blue-rich light they emit, particularly those with a colour temperature of more than 3000K. Blue-rich light is considered to be amongst one of the greatest sources to light pollution.
The guidelines provide a number of measures on how to reduce many of the negative effects of lighting through careful design and planning.
A measure which the guidelines propose is that well-designed external lighting installations should only be used when required. In residential areas, where outdoor lighting for safety and security reasons is necessary, one should strongly consider the installation of motion sensors to operate the light fittings during periods of activity. This is not only economically sustainable but also more effective in terms of security.
The introduction of fully-shielded fixtures is another measure at mitigating light nuisance. This fixture will ensure that no light is emitted above the horizontal plane. The guidelines discourage the use of ‘cool white’ light sources with high colour temperature. Instead ‘warmer white’ sources which have a correlated colour temperature not higher than 3000K and which reach the same efficacy levels as the blue-rich sources, should be used.
High-intensity searchlights or lasers pointing into the sky, as a means of publicity or entertainment are to be avoided.
Given that most development is likely to include some sort of outdoor lightings, such as in backyards, internal yards, terraces and/or on the façade, the guidelines are proposing that all development permits shall be accompanied by a standard condition which addresses light pollution.
The guidelines are also proposing that a lighting scheme report endorsed by an independent the warranted engineer will be required whenever a development permit is issued for projects of an industrial and commercial nature, the construction development of new roads or their upgrading, sports facilities, public gardens and playing areas, architectural illumination including church domes and building facades or projects in an ODZ area.
While all illuminated billboards and signage give rise to some degree of light pollution, the most damaging are the LED billboards. These not only give rise to glare but are also a safety hazard to motorists and pedestrians due to their sudden change in content and intensity of light. For these reasons, the guidelines are proposing that the brightness of all LED billboards should be reduced considerably after sunset, not exceed 100 cd/m2.
Anthony Borg points out that the scope of these guidelines is to also set a framework for the adoption of Dark Sky Areas in mainland Malta, similar to areas already designated on Gozo and Comino. Unfortunately, due to the urban growth which in itself has brought excessive, misaimed and unshielded night lighting, we have lost the mystery and wonder of the dark night sky. Today, the Milky Way cannot be seen from 89 % of the Maltese territory. With the introduction of dark sky heritage areas, together with the efforts of every individual to conform with these guidelines, not only can we rediscover the splendour of the stars but also protect our ecology and wildlife from the negative effects of light pollution.