Lawmakers split on need for law on light pollution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am

Lawmakers are divided on whether legislation is needed to combat light pollution, for which environment officials are proposing voluntary guidelines as a first step.

Pan-democrat lawmakers generally favour specific laws to curb light nuisance and are unhappy with what they see as officials' delaying tactics.

But legislators representing the retail and tourism sectors, which rely on lighting to attract business, have reservations.

The split became apparent at a meeting of the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel yesterday in its first discussion of the Environment Bureau's proposal.

Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the guidelines were not just vague but also toothless, as no one could enforce them and there was no mechanism to settle disputes.

Accusing officials of delaying the necessary law, Eu proposed a licensing system for lighting installations similar to that overseen by the Liquor Licensing Board, to approve lighting systems on their merits.

'It is the government's responsibility and it should show determination to resolve it,' Eu said.

Democrat Kam Nai-wai and Civic Act-up member Cyd Ho Sau-lan also backed legislation rather than voluntary guidelines, which include asking operators to switch lights off after 11pm and to install automatic systems for better brightness control.

Retail-sector lawmaker Vincent Fang Kang said voluntary guidelines were the right step because worldwide there was no standardised way to deal with light pollution. 'It is not worth legislating ... unless the situation gets much worse,' he said.

Tourism-sector lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said neon signs were part of the city's culture and light pollution was more a manifestation of environmental planning flaws than abuse of lighting. 'Asking people to switch off lights after 11pm is like eliminating economic activities at night and depriving people of a late dinner break,' he said.

Tse said better-off residents unhappy with bright lights could always choose to move to a dimmer district.

Acting Environment Secretary Kitty Poon Kit said the government had not ruled out legislation, but had to determine first what technical specifications and brightness standards would fit local conditions. She did not elaborate on what conditions would warrant introducing a law.

A task force chaired by a non-official would be formed to study technical issues and propose recommendations if legislation were required.

Poon also said her department had approached management of The One shopping complex in Tsim Sha Tsui after complaints against its lights by owners of flats in the nearby The Masterpiece. It had reduced the brightness and frequency of flashing lights on its rooftop signboard.