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Bid for legal framework on light pollution

Dark skies in Wairarapa. PHOTO/LEE MAUGER


Emily Ireland
[email protected]

The Wairarapa Dark Sky Association wants a legal framework in place to reduce light pollution in New Zealand.

In a submission to the Natural and Built Environment Bill, Association patron Sir Maarten Wevers said current environmental legislation in New Zealand made no specific mention of the need to protect dark skies and reduce light pollution.

This contrasted with extensive existing policies, regulation, and standards relating to water, soil, and noise pollution.

“The proposed Bill provides an overdue opportunity to establish light pollution in law as an adverse environmental impact that requires national and local regulation and mitigation,” Sir Maarten said.

Light pollution was not specifically covered in the draft legislation that went out for consultation this year.

Instead, it covers “land, water, air, soil, minerals, energy, and all forms of plants, animals, and other living organisms and their habitats; and ecosystems and their constituent parts”.

Submissions closed last month and the Bill is set to be introduced to Parliament, along with the Strategic Planning Act Bill, in 2022.

Sir Maarten said the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association would shortly submit an application to the International Dark Sky Association in Tuscon, Arizona, to have South Wairarapa and Carterton accredited as an International Dark Sky Reserve.

If the application was successful it would be the second such reserve in New Zealand, after the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve established in 2012.

“The Association earnestly requests the Select Committee to include light pollution within the proposed Bill, so that it will serve as a legal basis for regulating and mitigating light pollution in New Zealand,” Sir Maarten submitted.

“We would also like to see a new legislative framework that facilitates, indeed encourages, local councils across the country to embark on Dark Skies initiatives.”

Sir Maarten said artificial light at night had adverse effects on natural environments, and that long term effects were “little understood”.

“Nevertheless, there is no formalised national requirement to monitor, measure, and regulate light pollution in a comprehensive manner, and the Bill provides the best opportunity to establish such a regime.”

Both South Wairarapa and Carterton district councils have recently introduced changes to the lighting provisions in their district plans to bring them in line with International Dark Sky standards.

In May, an Independent Hearings Commissioner recommended approval for a district plan change for the Wairarapa International Dark Sky Reserve – Outdoor Artificial Lighting Plan Change.

Changes include new outdoor lighting to be tilted down or shielded so light goes out and down – not out and up, and ensuring the colour temperature of new lighting is 3000 Kelvin and under.

A Statistics NZ update on New Zealand’s light pollution is due for release in October.

Statistics NZ’s 2014 light pollution map showed Wairarapa coastal areas had “pristine sky”, urban areas had skies “degraded to the zenith” [sky directly above an observer], and areas in between had skies “degraded near the horizon”.

Areas with the worst pockets of light pollution were Auckland and Christchurch.

Light pollution was low in 74 per cent of the North Island and 93 per cent of the South Island.


Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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