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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 17:28 GMT
Stargazers oppose school crossing plan
by Anna Lindsay
BBC iCan reporter, Oxford

As keen astronomer Deborah Hambly gazes into the night sky, it is not a spectacular view of stars she is greeted by, but an orange smog.

Deborah Hambly stargazing with her telescope
Deborah Hambly is fighting plans for a school crossing

The strange-coloured sky is caused by streetlamps around her home in East Hagbourne, near Didcot, Oxfordshire.

She says it is so bad, she is fighting plans for a school crossing near her house because of up to 10 streetlights that must go with it - taking the total in the village to nearly 100.

The county council says it is using the minimum lighting necessary, with the lowest wattage, for the safe operation of the crossing.

Ms Hambly is the county representative of the Campaign for Dark Skies, who want laws to govern the design of all streetlamps, so they only radiate downwards where they are needed.

She told BBC News: "Light pollution means that astronomers can now only see the brightest stars.

"It's not possible to see galaxies and it's not possible to see the Milky Way when you are living in an area with lots of light."

The council plans to erect the streetlights along a rural road, next to Hagbourne Church of England Primary School.

John Napper looking through his telescope in his home-observatory
It's hopeless. I was out here in my garden at night the other day and I could literally read a newspaper
John Napper

Ms Hambly says it is one of the few areas in the village left unaffected by lighting, and her campaign has delayed the building of the crossing for more than a year.

"As you can see there's only this one streetlight here", she told BBC News.

"But what they're going to do is put a Belisha beacon crossing here and then put more streetlights on top of the Belisha beacon.

"They're also going to be putting down speed bumps and they require more street lighting.

"Everyone is in favour of a crossing that will make getting to school safer for the children - but what we want is one that's only lit when it needs to be lit and isn't flashing 24 hours a day."

'Necessary evil'

John Napper runs a mobile planetarium and observatory from his home in the village, and says growing light pollution is affecting his livelihood.

"It's hopeless. I was out here in my garden at night the other day and I could literally read a newspaper", he told BBC News.

"I used to come out here with a torch but I leave that indoors now because I don't need it.

A floodlight obscuring a man's view
Campaigners say security lights obscure people's view

"My telescope is quite a size, almost half a metre across, and it's got the capacity to show all sorts of things but over the past five, 10, 15 years, it's gradually being rendered more and more useless."

Mark Sutherland set up the walk-to-school scheme that will use the new crossing if it goes ahead. His nine-year-old daughter would benefit from the increased safety a crossing would bring.

He told BBC News: "It's a statutory requirement for the crossing to have lights. Unfortunately, without the lights, there won't be a crossing.

"It's a necessary evil."

Home office evidence suggests public lighting reduces crime but the campaigners argue it prevents people seeing very far at all.

They say it can take millions of years for light from the stars to reach our eyes, and that it is a shame to lose it in the last millisecond of its journey.

Village street lights win award
11 Oct 04 |  Somerset
Light relay 'should be dropped'
21 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature
Villagers' victory over floodlights
23 Jan 04 |  Oxfordshire


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