Dark Sky Status (Cornwall)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:01 pm on 29th November 2017.

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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.