Improve Public Lighting to Support Economic Recovery Says New Report

Shadwell Estate, Tower Hamlets © LFB and Peabody

A new report by think tank Centre for London argues that London government needs to take a serious look at the way the capital is lit. The report sets out a new vision for lighting London with recommendations to improve lighting quality as a way of supporting economic recovery and meeting sustainability goals.

Lighting is a low cost, environmentally sustainable way to make public spaces safer, more liveable and more fun, but it is often overlooked. With no city-wide lighting strategy and only two of London’s 33 local authorities having a local strategy, the report argues that better lighting needs to be given greater priority by London government, developers and landlords.

Good lighting reduces light pollution and energy use while encouraging walking and cycling, by making journeys easier and safer. In the aftermath of the pandemic, better lighting will be crucial to support the recovery of London’s high streets, encouraging people to spend more time shopping and socialising. Lighting also plays a key role in broadening access to culture through public art projects and illuminating heritage buildings.

The report highlights that London’s current lighting approach often overlooks pedestrians and public spaces in favour of a narrow focus on roads. While all of London’s local authorities have either begun or completed upgrades to their LED street lighting, these lamps primarily light roads for drivers, relegating pavement users to second place. The report also finds that new lighting is often installed on the basis of a widely held misassumption that brighter lighting inevitably equates to safer streets. In contrast, private lighting sources like shop fronts, office buildings and luminous adverts are poorly regulated, creating unnecessary light pollution. Planning departments also often lack the resources and the expertise to ensure new buildings and retrofits meet recommended lighting levels.

To improve the quality of London’s lighting, Centre for London argues that the Mayor of London could support local authorities to develop their own lighting strategies. These would set out plans to improve the quality of public lighting across their borough and guide the regulation of lighting from public and private sources. The London Plan’s policy on public realm has raised the city’s ambition on lighting in new developments, and the Mayor of London could go further by creating a lighting resource hub to showcase good and poor examples of lighting across the city.

To improve practice on the ground, the report calls for local authorities to engage lighting designers early on in lighting plans and give high street and town centre managers more responsibility for coordinating public and private lighting.

To raise public awareness of the benefits and costs of light, the report also encourages local authorities to pilot dimming or switching-off events, coinciding with established events such as Earth Day. Londoners could also be given more say in how their neighbourhoods are lit, with funding being made available for communities to bid for lighting improvements.

Nicolas Bosetti, Research Manager at Centre for London said: “Lighting can make us feel happy and safe, or scared and unwelcome. It can affect how we move around our local neighbourhood after dark, “Better lighting can make you want to stay in a space for longer – whether it’s shopping on the high street, socialising with friends or walking instead of driving to your destination. Yet the way we light our public spaces is often overlooked.

“The Mayor of London should support local authorities to draw up their lighting plans and show their town centre, side streets and housing estates in a better light.”

Amy Lamé, Night Czar said: “London’s economy between 6pm – 6am will play a crucial role in our recovery from the pandemic, so it is more important than ever for our outside spaces to be lit effectively and sustainably.

“I’m encouraged to see the Centre for London placing such importance on recommendations from the Mayor’s Night Time Commission to improve lighting at night, and the Mayor’s new London Plan underlines his commitment to ensuring Londoners and visitors can safely enjoy the best city in the world after dark.”

Sarah Gaventa, Director of the Illuminated River Foundation said: “The research Illuminated River undertook into the lighting around the Thames (included in the first-ever luminance study of this area of central London) raised concerns, as we found lighting well above recommended levels creating light pollution, areas lit far longer than needed, and an absence of smart technology. We felt there was a lack of knowledge sharing and wanted to encourage some coordinated London-wide thought leadership to help create a night-time that is more sustainable and environmentally friendly, works harder for Londoners and yet reveals the beauty of our city.

This is why we instigated this study by the Centre for London and gathered key partners together prompting a new focus on this rather neglected subject, and we welcome this much needed report.”

Alastair Moss, Chair of the Planning and Transportation Committee at the City of London Corporation said: “The City Lighting Strategy was adopted in 2018 to improve the quality, efficiency, sustainability and consistency of lighting across the Square Mile. It is designed to provide a safe vibrant and pleasant night environment for residents, workers and visitors.

“Through the implementation of our City Lighting Strategy we’ve been able to target areas of improvement and radically enhance the look and feel of a place once the sun has set through the strategic use of lighting.
“We would certainly welcome a pan-London lighting plan in order to improve safety and make the capital even more liveable, particularly as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.”

Susannah Wilks, Director of Cross River Partnership said: “Cross River Partnership welcomes this important contribution to Lighting London Sustainably and looks forward to collaborating with its Local Authority, Business Improvement District and community partners to take the findings forward and support London out of lockdown.”

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