Dark Sky Status (Cornwall)

– in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 29th November 2017.

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Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall 4:29 pm, 29th November 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Cornwall’s dark skies status.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma.

As many hon. Members know, Cornwall is a beautiful place. Just saying “Cornwall” brings up pictures of a fantastic rugged coastline, the beauty of the moors, and of course our mining history, which made Cornwall a world heritage site—but also beautiful are Cornwall’s skies at night. I was just six years old when President Kennedy said, in an inspiring speech:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.

When I was about seven, my cousin Dawn used to take me out into the garden and point out the different stars to me. She pointed out the great bear, the little bear and the plough, and I found it fascinating. I was just a teenager when mankind landed on the moon, and I remember Neil Armstrong taking his first steps when I was at school. I remember the roads being blocked in Cornwall as it hosted viewers of a solar eclipse in 1999—my young son became very excited about it. People looked skywards, with the correct eye protection of course, to see our skies go dark in the morning.

Those memories were brought back to me when I met with Ken and Muriel Bennett from the fantastic Caradon observatory on Bodmin moor. Their enthusiasm about the sky at night is fantastic and infectious. I would like to read a quick endorsement from space pilot Rick Hauck, who just happens to be the uncle of one of my local councillors in South East Cornwall. He said:

“Congratulations to those who have successfully obtained certification of International Dark Sky status for Bodmin Moor. Having observed the night sky from the space shuttle, well above sky pollution suffered by a large percentage of inhabited earth, I can assure the stargazers in the Moor and particularly those fortunate enough to have access to the Caradon Observatory that they will have a unique view of the night sky, breathtaking in its grandeur.”

Caradon observatory is an amateur-run facility near Upton Cross in my constituency. The observatory has been used as a venue for a number of presentations and open days for students and local groups. The facility inspires the next generation to reach for the stars. That is why I was thrilled when Bodmin moor was formally recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association as the first dark sky park in an area of outstanding natural beauty. In total, it covers an area of 80 square miles, with a buffer zone of about two miles. The bid was made by the Caradon observatory, with the assistance of Cornwall Council. I would like to put on record my thanks to the council for all the work that it carried out to achieve that status.

The exceptional quality of the night sky, commitments to avoid light pollution and the provision of educational outreach were the reasons the award was given. Local residents and businesses are also playing their part. Guidance is being offered in the designated area to help them to choose any lighting, so that the skies can be even better in future. They are also being asked to consider whether they need lighting, and to think twice before putting lighting up.

It is not just people in the area who will enjoy the dark skies. For millions of years, plant and animal life has relied on the daily rhythm of light and dark—it is literally written into our DNA—but humans have recently disrupted that, and it can cause problems with reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators. From sea birds that are navigating to amphibians that produce their mating calls only when it is dark, many parts of the ecosystem are being affected by light. One study estimated that millions of baby sea turtles die in Florida alone as they make their way towards the city lights at night instead of the bright horizon over the ocean. It is therefore hoped that the abundant wildlife on Bodmin moor will also benefit from the darker skies.

Ken and Muriel Bennett recently wrote to me saying:

“We at the Observatory have always believed that the younger the children that can be educated to look upwards the more impact it can have, even in some cases pointing them towards the sciences and suchlike. Children generally are infatuated with subjects such as dinosaurs and space travel (Star Wars for instance) and this interest starts at extremely early ages. To be able to promote astronomy as a community, or indeed as a county, would act as a further inspiration to them and hopefully steer them towards academia. We are going to need more and more scientists, engineers etc to fill increasingly technical and development positions and perhaps the earliest and best way forward is to inspire the young.”

They continued:

“Together with Cornwall council we have provided the tools to use at no costs to businesses to initially rack up the tourism in Cornwall all the year around. This will create wealth for spin off businesses, and as we become more and more known as a centre for astronomy and science, we would hope to encourage technical and engineering companies to look at starting up or relocating in our wonderful part of the country. We could produce a young labour force second to none.”

I want to see much more made of the dark sky status. I want to help Ken and Muriel with their inspirational project.

I thank the Campaign to Protect Rural England for the interest it has shown in dark skies. In its mapping, it found that around only a fifth of England is free of light pollution. It recommends that the Government ensure that local authorities are implementing Government policy to control light pollution, as set out in the national planning policy framework and associated guidance. In the absence of resources for the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Communities and Local Government to pursue rigorous monitoring, it calls on Ministers to issue a clear statement on how local authorities should proactively take action to control light pollution and protect dark skies in their areas.

I back Ken and Muriel in their call. In particular, I ask the Government what additional information they can make available for businesses and people to help with their lighting. I also ask what grants are available if dark sky lighting is more expensive than other alternatives —especially for people who live in designated dark sky areas, such as Bodmin moor in my constituency.

I would also be grateful if the Minister outlined what help the Government could offer Ken and Muriel to help them with their project. The equipment they need to look up into space is not cheap. I would like to think that we could help with that, and with the facilities at the site, so that children can make the very best of their visit, inspiring them to go further and take up science.

Just last week in the Budget, the Chancellor made much of his welcome boost and long-term support for science and innovation. He mentioned skills and jobs for the new economy. It is hoped that Cornwall will deliver the UK’s first space port in 2020. Its website boasts that Cornwall Airport Newquay and Goonhilly Earth Station are well placed to play a critical role in developing the UK’s space industry with the creation of a space port. Together, they provide a complete end-to-end UK launch capability to support all aspects of launch, including sub-orbital vehicles and systems and the ability to put satellites into Earth orbit. We need observatories such as the one at Caradon to inspire youngsters into our space industry. This is clearly a new economy, and we need to expand the facilities to ensure we have the workforce we need to make the UK a world leader in this field.

What Government help is available to encourage people to visit dark sky status areas? Cornwall is reliant on tourism, and our skies are our greatest asset. What assistance is there to promote our wonderful night sky to people as another reason to come to Cornwall and enjoy our wonderful hospitality?

Like many other people in London, when I am here I look up but see very little. I encourage everyone to visit my beautiful constituency and to look up at night. I promise that the view is very different. Let us make a real push to inspire people into the new economy. Let us take Bodmin moor’s dark skies—a real asset—and make people look up and think, “Where next?”

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 4:42 pm, 29th November 2017

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Murray on securing this debate and on giving us the opportunity to talk about Cornwall. I extend the invitation much further than east Cornwall, right down to west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which are darker still in lots of ways.

Cornwall is already one of the darkest areas in England. It is well documented that becoming a dark skies reserve has positive effects, including energy reduction and a boost to tourism. It also improves wellbeing—first, for mankind, as it is proven that people sleep better under dark skies, and secondly, for migrating birds, nocturnal animals and mammals. My constituency, like much of Cornwall, has a track record of caring for the environment and wildlife. An example we are proud of is the seabird recovery project on Scilly, where we have supported and increased the population of the Manx shearwater, of which I am a species champion, and other seabirds by getting rid of rats and litter. That is one example of our commitment to create the best possible environment for wildlife and nature.

What interests me most about the dark skies status proposal is the west Cornwall and Isles of Scilly initiative, which will create a protected area from Bishop’s rock, 45 km of the south-western tip of Cornwall, right through to the Hayle river, covering the Isles of Scilly and most of what we know as west Penwith. The Lizard peninsular is also in my constituency but is not included in the current proposal for dark skies reserve status, for understandable reasons—there are a couple of rather large towns between Lizard and west Penwith. However, I intend to do what I can to explore that ambition for the good people of the Lizard peninsular.

I am grateful for this debate, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We already live in an unspoiled dark skies area down in the far south-west; we just do not have official recognition.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate Mrs Murray on securing this debate. I want to give an example of something that has happened elsewhere that is similar to what she is trying to achieve. When I saw that this issue was in Westminster Hall for debate, right away I thought of the Wild Atlantic Way, which is something we have done in Northern Ireland with Tourism Ireland. We have promoted the tourism qualities while preserving the rocks, the coastline, the birds and everything else. We have sold it across the world and in the USA. A large number of visitors come not just to the Wild Atlantic Way but to the whole of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is a marvellous thing. If she gets the status, she will get the visitors.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If he is offering an opportunity to take some of those American tourists from Ireland to west Cornwall, I would be absolutely delighted.

We live in an unspoiled dark area, so achieving the status would not necessarily require significant changes to light pollution levels today. The many people who are working hard to achieve the dark skies reserve, including my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and others in west Cornwall, are seeking to preserve and protect the current situation for future generations, but there are plans to build 19,000 new homes in Cornwall and carry out a number of road and other infrastructure projects. That is why it is so important that we secure dark skies status—it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In February, I supported the efforts to achieve dark skies status with a constituency-wide survey. Over 95% of those who responded supported the ambition of the dark skies initiative and the work that the working group is doing, as does the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Exeter University, which delivers education in parts of Cornwall, the National Trust, Penwith Landscape Partnership, the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Duchy of Cornwall, Cornwall Council and the diocese of Truro. A couple of names have been mentioned. I would like to mention Kevin Hughes, a constituent of mine, who been a long-time avid campaigner to deliver dark skies designation in west Cornwall and Scilly. Together, we are united to keep Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly special.

When we secure dark skies reserve status, we will further improve our offer to tourists and our care for the environment and wildlife habitats, and we will lead the way in striking the balance and finding the harmony needed not by resisting house building but by ensuring that the built environment complements the largely unspoiled beauty of the county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. That is what exercises the minds and energies of large numbers of Cornish residents.

When preparing for this debate, I was sent some fantastic images of the skies above Cornwall at night. It is regrettable that I cannot share them in the Chamber, but hon. Members can view them, along with the 9,805 people who have already done so, on the Dark Skies for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Facebook page.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education) 4:48 pm, 29th November 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma, and to speak in this debate. I congratulate Mrs Murray on securing it. It is a debate in which we can enjoy each other’s company for an hour. We are probably all going to say broadly similar things.

The hon. Lady talked about going out stargazing in her childhood, and the wonder and awe that that produced in her. It is something I thoroughly enjoy doing with my two girls. When I take them only a few miles outwith the city of Glasgow—I will say a bit more about Glasgow in a minute or two—vistas suddenly appear in front of us that are not visible in the city. It is great for them to start picking out the different constellations and to see familiar things. For example, Orion is visible in the city, but there is far more detail when we go out of the city.

The hon. Lady talked about the 1999 eclipse in Cornwall. I travelled to Cornwall especially for it. My son was just a toddler at the time, and we camped in a muddy field somewhere in Cornwall. We could not get near the beaches the next morning—it was too busy—so we stayed in rural Cornwall and, because of cloud cover, saw nothing. We enjoyed our experience very much.

In 2015, there was an eclipse in the UK; I am not talking about the SNP’s general election victory, but a partial eclipse that was visible. Shortly before I was elected, I was a physics teacher. We took the students outside and they were able to watch the eclipse. There is something about space and the universe—when we can see things working other than just the normal that we are used to—that really inspires our young people. During my time as a teacher, I often had young people out doing Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, not in Cornwall but usually in the highlands of Scotland, and usually in the rain and the mud, but very occasionally in beautifully spectacular countryside, where the sun would set and the stars appear.

Many of those Glaswegian school children had never been outside the city. It was quite incredible for them suddenly to see the stars appearing. We said to them, “There’s Orion. We’re used to seeing Orion, but have you ever seen the redness of Betelgeuse that you can now see? Have you ever counted the number of stars on Orion’s sword?” Things like that made it far more alive for them.

We must not underestimate the impact that these experiences have on young people, so it is wonderful to hear that Bodmin moor has been designated an international dark sky landscape. I really hope that the wider community in Cornwall and the community of Bodmin moor can take full advantage of the educational experiences that that offers the young people there.

In Scotland, we have three designated dark sky areas—Moffat, Galloway and Coll—but one could argue that most of Scotland is a dark sky area, because just a short distance from the major cities the stars really are spectacular. I believe that the designation is to do with how many stars can be seen and light levels; I have not fully read up on how somewhere can be designated a dark sky area, I must admit. I know when I am somewhere dark when I can see the Milky Way, which is often invisible to us. The problem in Scotland can be the cloud cover, which might be a problem in Cornwall—I think they suffer a bit from clouds, too. We do not always get the beautifully clear skies that we need to see things.

There are lots of advantages to being designated as having dark sky status, one of which is tourism, which has been mentioned. Cornwall already has a fairly vibrant tourist industry, but there are other things that we can do not just in Cornwall but across the UK to help to generate the tourist economy. One relates to VAT on tourism. I am glad that the Minister is in her place and I hope that she is listening. Reducing VAT would be a shot in the arm to many small businesses across tourist areas: bed and breakfasts, restaurants, guesthouses, visitor centres, shops and more. What a difference it would make if that could be considered.

Derek Thomas talked about biodiversity, the improvement in wildlife that he has seen in his area and the different schemes that have been used. Protection for the environment is important. Jim Shannon talked about the wild Atlantic way, which I had not heard about but I have just googled, so I know the details, and I will be sure to read up on it for my next visit to Ireland.

Light pollution is something that we need to think about seriously, both in rural areas where it affects the natural environment and in cities. I said that I would talk a little more about cities. Recently, Glasgow underwent a programme of changing from orange sodium lights, which pretty much sent out light in all directions, to far more directed LED lights, which shine down but not up. That irradiance is quite important—not so much in the city, although I have certainly noticed a difference in the number of stars that are visible now. The difference can be seen out of the city or town areas, because there is not the same light pollution a few miles out of town as we are used to in it. As a child, I knew that I was approaching Glasgow when I was 30 or 40 miles away when I saw the infamous sodium glow of the city. The LEDs do not produce quite as much glow, so they are quite important. In the city, we can now see far more constellations. It is great that my two daughters, who are only eight and 10, can now point out far more detail in constellations they see from the back garden and pick out constellations that they could identify previously only when they were in rural areas.

I want to come back to something that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall said: the importance of inspiring and encouraging young people to study these subjects. I am a physicist by profession, although my background is in photonics, not astronomy. The space industry is at a point where interest in it is ready to explode, and we need to make sure that we have the young people there to take advantage of that.

The hon. Lady mentioned the space industry and I know that she is a great advocate for it, but Glasgow is now the satellite centre of Europe. Only San Francisco produces more satellites worldwide. We have three big companies: Clyde Space, Alba Orbital and Spire Global all in the centre of Glasgow. We also have Prestwick airport—not in a dark sky area, but there are some fairly dark areas between there and Glasgow. Prestwick airport is in partnership with Houston—for those who know Scotland, that is not Houston, Renfrewshire, but Houston, Texas—and it is set to become a space port. There are companies ready to take full advantage, but they need these young people to be inspired and to study physics, engineering and astronomy. The young people also need to have some sort of catalyst to make them do that. Dark sky areas can only help.

I thank the hon. Member for South East Cornwall once again for bringing this debate to the House and congratulate Bodmin moor on its dark sky status, which is not as easy to say as it seems. I wish Cornwall all the very best of success in inspiring the young people of that area and hopefully areas further afield. All the best of success in the future, and perhaps the next time I visit Cornwall it will not be so cloudy.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma—

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

Order. Normal practice is that Members indicate that they wish to speak, which you did not do, Mr Grant, and that is why I called the Opposition spokesperson. However, there is time for you to make a brief contribution.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 4:58 pm, 29th November 2017

I apologise, Mr Sharma; I am relatively new and still learning. I will be brief. Thank you for your understanding.

I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Murray for initiating this debate. There was a mention of somewhere being “darker still” Not only do we have whisky stills in Scotland, but we are darker still, too, so we have some things in common. Cornwall had tin mines and Cornish pasties; Scotland had coalmines and Scotch pies. I am going to talk about Dalmellington in the Doon valley, near Galloway forest dark sky park, which Carol Monaghan mentioned. For 100 years, the Doon valley produced from deep and open-cast mines the coal that kept the nation’s lights on, but it has moved on. Instead of keeping the lights on, it keeps the lights off, because it is a designated dark skies area.

I commend Ken and Muriel Bennett for the good work they have done on Bodmin moor. I extend that compliment to Mark Gibson from the Doon valley, who purchased Craigengillan estate. He had a vision for the area, which is hurting from the loss of the collieries and industry. In 2012, he opened the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory in Dalmellington. It is wonderful. It cost £700,000, which came from various funding streams. It aims to build on the park’s status and offers visitors a chance to observe the northern lights, the Milky Way, planets, comets and shooting stars—of which I am not one. As I say, the observatory was the brainchild of estate owner Mark Gibson, who is to be commended along with the many others who made it happen. The observatory celebrated its fifth birthday in October with the opening of a new planetarium and the launch of the new dark sky tartan. It is a tourist hub that is breathing life into the Doon valley.

The observatory inspires young people—several colleagues mentioned the importance of that. Amateur astronomers, schools, colleges and universities go along. Viewing is not restricted to night time—that is the ideal time, obviously—because the observatory has links with others elsewhere in the world. I hope that dark skies status brings similar revival and success to Bodmin and the rest of Cornwall. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is Scotland’s wee magic corner in the Doon valley. It is wonderful. Come along and see us.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:01 pm, 29th November 2017

May I say again what a pleasure it is to serve under your excellent chairmanship, Mr Sharma, and how fair of you it was to call Bill Grant?

I am delighted to take part in this debate. I welcome the way Mrs Murray led it, and I congratulate Derek Thomas on his contribution. Jim Shannon, who made an intervention, is no longer in his place, but I know that will not count against him. I thank Carol Monaghan, too, for her contribution on behalf of the SNP.

I do not intend to delay Members long, but I will make some remarks that I hope will be helpful. This debate has been a learning experience for me. I usually get people moaning when their lights go off and asking me to ensure that they are put back on, but it is valuable for people to have the opportunity to look at the dark sky. I thought that we might turn off the lights in the Chamber and have the debate in the dark, but that might have challenged a few of us who are not capable of eating enough carrots to read our notes in the dark.

This is a serious debate and, as I say, I have taken it as a learning experience. I did not realise that 65 places in the United Kingdom are classified as dark skies places. That is interesting, because it is difficult to become so classified. I am pleased that, if I were going to be in Cornwall on Saturday, I would be able to go to Jamaica Inn, which I have visited previously. For the princely sum of £15, I could get a meal and look at the skies both before and after it. As a vegetarian, I have to say that I hope it puts on vegetarian options as well as what seemed to be a carvery, otherwise it will not be able to attract me there again. It is important that we celebrate the night sky and teach our children about astronomy and the wonder of the sky, which some of us take far too readily for granted.

This is clearly a consensual debate—we would all like to share in such experiences—but I have some questions for the Minister, just to keep her on her toes. First, do we intend to increase the number of applications to be a dark sky place? As I said, getting accepted is quite a laborious process—the application form is some 100 pages long—so perhaps we can help places that would otherwise fall by the wayside to do that.

Secondly, I am told that Plymouth is in the process of installing LED street lights, which the hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned. Not only is that great for the environment, but it will save the city about £1 million—now there is a reason why it should be done. What is the Government’s programme in that respect? I know that is a local authority responsibility, but if they are serious about this, the Government could take a lead and encourage local authorities that are thinking of installing LED lights—it is all about them pointing down rather than out and up—to do so. That would be a good progressive policy for any Government. How is the Minister helping?

Thirdly, how are we working with different organisations? I declare an interest as a long-standing member of the CPRE. It is good that it has issued awards for dark sky initiatives. It would be interesting to know how the Government links into those awards and works with such organisations.

Fourthly, it is relevant for us to look at the idea of dark sky parks and it is interesting that Cornwall is leading the way in that regard, but I am not sure that I fully understand them, so perhaps the Government will provide some education. Those parks are crucial in encouraging people to come into the countryside not just for day visits—for walks, cycle rides and so on—but to experience a different lifestyle in the evening. It would help to have clarity about what a dark sky park is.

Last but not least, will the Minister say something about how we deal with artificial light? As I say, I always get people coming to me who are worried about the lights being turned off at night. They feel somewhat threatened because of crime and because they have got used to having street lights. It would be interesting, because I had not really understood this, to hear about whether we can declare light a statutory nuisance where it is oppressive and affects people’s ability to get to sleep at night. Most councils now turn lights off at night to stop energy being wasted. Can we do that earlier and save more money? Can light be declared a statutory nuisance? From reading the Library briefing, it seems that doing so is quite a complicated process.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall. This is an interesting topic that catches the imagination of people of all ages, and we may all be able to do a bit more about it in our areas. I represent Stroud, which includes part of the Cotswolds, and I will certainly consider whether we ought to look at dark sky status to encourage people to look at the night sky. I look forward to hearing how the Minister answers all those questions.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:08 pm, 29th November 2017

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Murray on securing this important debate, which has been well attended by people who want to put forward the benefits of the dark sky.

I am sure we all agree that a truly clear, star-filled night sky is one of the greatest spectacles of nature. In an area of low light pollution, it is possible to see as many as 2,000 stars on a clear night, but in our brightly lit modern world many people seldom get the opportunity to experience that. Only last week, a new study was published showing that between 2012 and 2016, the planet’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2% per year.

Carol Monaghan talked about her children and her experiences growing up. I have to admit, growing up in Liverpool, pink skies were a huge feature of the urban glow as the light was partially reflected. Dark nights seemed to be a rarity, and we used to find out about the stars by going to the planetarium. Therefore, when I moved to a village with no street lights at all—I now live in a market town where the council turns off street lights at midnight—it was a joy to behold. Ken and Muriel Bennett, the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, are right to point out that just looking upwards can spark such an interest in science; indeed, it can inspire a generation. I understand why my hon. Friend wants to support them.

I welcome the initiative undertaken in Cornwall in seeking the designation of Bodmin moor as an international dark sky site. I am delighted that Cornwall is leading by example in this regard, and I recognise the efforts of my hon. Friend Derek Thomas in trying to secure further designations in the county. As to this particular reserve, I warmly welcome the work that Cornwall Council, Caradon observatory and the Cornwall Nature Partnership have carried out in partnership with Natural England to develop their environmental growth strategy. This is a positive example of long-term thinking, setting out a vision of a sustainable future for the county right through to 2065.

Following the launch last year, I understand that a wide range of businesses, individuals and organisations have pledged specific contributions towards achieving environmental-based growth in Cornwall. As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall described, that will reconnect people with the wonder of dark skies, as well as offering a range of benefits to local communities.

The Government have been active for some time in promoting dark skies within national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. For example, we supported the successful application for dark sky status by Exmoor national park, which, in 2011, became the first international dark sky reserve to be designated in Europe. The Government also supported the South Downs national park, which was designated last year. Indeed, Natural England gave its support to Cornwall Council’s successful application to designate Bodmin moor as an international dark sky landscape, the benefits of which we have heard so much about.

I draw hon. Members’ attention to an example from the other end of the country, where the Northumberland international dark sky park has become the largest in Europe. That has had a hugely positive impact on the local economy, with about 20,000 visitors making the journey to Kielder observatory each year. That in turn has helped the park to become a year-round destination, enabling businesses to remain open and viable throughout the winter months. It has also helped to enhance local residents’ quality of life and to inspire and educate people about astronomy and the natural world. That clearly demonstrates the range of benefits—social, environmental and economic—that can flow from such an initiative. I am also aware that, just last month, Exmoor had a week of celebration that boosted its season and is in line with the Government’s strategy on productivity in parks and AONBs.

In answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow North West, VAT is a matter for the Treasury. She will recognise that in terms of tourism, but I know that those representations are made regularly. My hon. Friend Bill Grant praised the Scottish dark sky observatory. He is right to do so; it is something of which he should be proud.

Light pollution is an issue that can challenge rural areas and blight urban areas. While I fully accept that artificial light brings valuable benefits to society in safety and in facilitating a thriving night time economy—we think of the spectacular Blackpool illuminations—if used incorrectly or carelessly it can contribute to a range of problems. It can be a source of annoyance to people, be harmful to wildlife and waste energy, as well as prevent enjoyment of the night sky.

That is why we have taken action to ensure that light pollution is addressed through the planning system. The national planning policy framework makes it clear that planning policies and decisions should limit the impact of light pollution on local amenity, dark landscapes and nature conservation. It is supported by guidance that emphasises the importance of getting the right light in the right place at the right time and helps local planners and developers to design in ways of avoiding glare and intrusion.

As Dr Drew said, artificial light can be classified as a potential statutory nuisance. That means that local authorities have a duty to investigate complaints about light emitted from premises that could constitute a nuisance or be harmful to health, and they have powers to take action when there is a problem. I have an anecdote: I admit that this did not affect me directly, but at a golf club in one of my constituencies, what the lighting was doing was so poor that I genuinely thought the place was on fire. This is a challenge in which working with businesses matters, and I want to encourage councils to do that. There are grants available to help people get LED lighting, and the Energy Saving Trust is probably is the best gateway for that.

I have to alert the House that the jury is still slightly out on the benefits of LED versus sodium, specifically in regard to light pollution. Undoubtedly, LED lights are better in terms of saving energy, but they must be directed downwards in a particular way. Otherwise, there is an issue about the photobiological effects of LED lighting with high blue light components: there is an increase in light pollution, the greater the blue light content of the light source. That has been investigated, and that is why the Government have worked with Highways England and, I think, the CPRE, the Commission for Dark Skies and others to produce guidance on how best to place this in the future.

As we all know, street lighting is an important issue and needs to be managed carefully to strike the right balance between preserving road safety and avoiding light pollution. The Department for Transport is therefore encouraging local authorities to replace their street lighting with modern lighting that reduces the amount of glare emitted. Highways England, which manages our motorways and major roads, is also working actively to minimise light pollution. As I say, it is working with the Commission for Dark Skies and the CPRE to develop improved road lighting standards. It is also investing in technology that allows lighting to be dimmed or switched off in response to lower traffic flows.

Finally, it is important to remember, as has been pointed out, that light pollution can affect wildlife as well as people, and that nocturnal or migratory species in particular can be disturbed by it. We have legislative controls in place to prevent the disturbance of protected species, and Natural England is always available to provide advice in such cases, including by helping to think through the possible unintended consequences of artificial lighting for habitats and wildlife.

It is not only central and local government that are taking action in this area. Last year, for example, the Campaign to Protect Rural England launched interactive maps that allow users anywhere in the country to look at the artificial lighting situation in their postcode compared with other parts of the country. That is a useful tool that can inform local decision making on where action may be needed to control light pollution.

It is important that dark skies and the management of artificial light are part of our future thinking on the environment, given how important we know they are for wellbeing, quality of life and so much else besides. We need to ensure that policy in this area evolves to take account of the challenges and opportunities of the next 25 years, and that we balance the needs of a growing, vibrant society with the ability to access tranquil spaces and clear night skies, now and in future generations.

I will try to answer some of the questions. On funding, I have already tried to guide my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall towards the Energy Saving Trust. I think in particular of the funding she requested for Ken and Muriel Bennett. Off the top of my head, I do not have a particular sense of where that would be at the moment, but I wonder if the Royal Astronomical Society would be a useful avenue to explore. I also think, if they are trying to widen the educational opportunity, lottery funding from the big society may be something to consider.

On some of the other questions that the hon. Member for Stroud raised, the Government are not setting out a plan deliberately to try to grow the number of applications. There are now sufficient parks for us to share how people can best do this, but I must emphasise that the Government do not have a formal role in the designation process. It is non-governmental and non-statutory; in fact, it is undertaken by the International Dark-Sky Association. It looks at five sorts of different designations that people can apply for and be considered for. The applications are reviewed by a standing committee composed of dark sky experts and previous successful programme applicants. Given the growing number of these areas, not only in England but in Wales and Scotland, there is sufficient expertise out there that interested councils could go to. I must admit that I am considering encouraging my council in Suffolk Coastal to consider this.

I conclude by once again thanking my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue. She really has highlighted how wonderful this has been for her constituency, and I look forward to hearing more about how the designation of Bodmin moor as an international dark sky landscape helps to benefit her local community, both directly and through tourism and research over the years ahead. I am happy to explore how my Department might want to assist future applications, but I am conscious that, as I say, there is expertise out there already. As always, I encourage people to look to those who have already had success.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall 5:19 pm, 29th November 2017

I thank hon. Members for attending the debate, which has clearly demonstrated that there is complete cross-party consensus. We have had contributions from the official Opposition, the Scottish nationalists, the Democratic Unionist party and the Conservative party. I think we are all speaking with one voice on this issue. Let us hope that we can take this forward in every way possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered Cornwall’s dark skies status.

Sitting adjourned.