Bolder light pollution rules set to change Maltese nightlife

Clearer and darker: commercial signage, billboards, churches and monuments will be switched off after 11pm and lasers and searchlights pointing to the sky will be banned

Bold planning regulations finally coming in place to regulate light pollution will ban lasers pointing to the sky, switch off commercial signage, and replace football stadia floodlights with shielded lights.

Light pollution is so severe in Malta that the Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our solar system, is only visible in 12.8% of the entire surface area of the Maltese islands. Light pollution also has a negative impact on mental health and ecosystems in both urban and rural areas.

New rules will now ban high intensity searchlights or lasers pointing into the sky, often used for publicity or entertainment purposes.

Such lights, which are sufficiently intense to be seen at night as beams or to light up clouds, are still used in private entertainment venues like discos and even during public events, as was the case recently with the new open-air cinema in Valletta. According to the new guidelines such lights are a cause of distraction and may constitute a driving and aviation hazard – even qualifying as ‘dangerous lights’ in accordance with the Air Navigation Order.

And in view of the required power, they are considered to cause an unnecessary wastage of power that cause nuisance to third parties. 

Shop signs to be switched off

The guidelines will also recommend that billboards located along the road network be switched off at 11pm, and all signage on commercial buildings be switched off when the premises are not in operation.

LED billboards and signage not only result in glare, but are also a safety hazard to motorists and pedestrians due to their sudden change in content and intensity of light, and are deemed to be the most damaging in terms of light pollution.

The new rules specify that the brightness of all LED billboards must be reduced considerably on sundown, with night-time luminance not exceeding 100 candelas per square metre (cd/sqm)

No more skyglow from football grounds

Sports facilities like football grounds will be obliged to install shielded lighting systems whenever existing lights are replaced. Sports facilities will be encouraged to retrofit existing spot lights to minimise light pollution.

The vast majority of sport lighting installations in Malta create large amounts of skyglow and glare. According to the new rules in facilities like football grounds, all floodlighting should consist of flat glass, full cut-off asymmetric floodlights fitted with louvers where required and mounted horizontally such that no light is allowed above the horizontal. Lighting fixtures should also be mounted and aimed so that as little direct illumination as possible is directed off the site.

The retrofitting of the existing installations is also being highly encouraged. This can be achieved through the fitting of metal shields to avoid upward illumination and restricting the main beam angle of the lights so as to reduce the direct illumination of areas beyond the facility. Whenever such lighting systems are replaced, fully shielded ones will become a requirement.

Even public buildings and monuments will not be spared by the new regulations. All decorative lighting on monuments and architectural façades should be switched off at 11pm. Moreover, facades should preferably be lit from nearby roofs or light poles, using circular spotlights fitted with glare shields and baffles.

In rural areas, the regulations recommend the use of retro-reflective road markers (cats’ eyes), retro-reflective line markings or informational signs and other reflectors as an alternative to street lighting.

LIGHTS OUT!

  1. Shop signs to be switched off when premises are not in operation
  2. Laser lights and high intensity searchlights pointing to the sky will be banned
  3. Decorative lights on churches, monuments and architectural facades to be switched off after 11pm
  4. Billboards to be switched off after 11pm
  5. Sports grounds to phase out existing floodlights with shielded ones
  6. Rural roads to opt for reflective markings instead of lights

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