Norwich stargazers delighted at street lights plan
Sarah HallA controversial decision which will see thousands of street lights switched off in Norwich has won support from stargazers - who hope darker skies will encourage more youngsters to get into astronomy.Sarah Hall
A controversial decision which will see thousands of street lights switched off in Norwich has won support from stargazers - who hope darker skies will encourage more youngsters to get into astronomy.
An unintended consequence of Norfolk County Council's midnight switch-off of lights is that the long-running complaint from astronomers about light pollution in cities will be tackled.
The county council agreed last month to press ahead with a plan to replace 27,000 streetlights in Norfolk, including 7,800 in Norwich, over the next three years, fitting cells which will switch them off between midnight and 5am.
The council says that will save �167,000 a year and cut the council's carbon footprint, but concerns have been raised that crime, or at least the fear of it, will increase, especially in Norwich.
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However, Mark Thompson, chairman of Norwich Astronomical Society, said it could pave the way for more people to get hooked on the heavens.
Mr Thompson, who regularly presents a stargazing slot in front of millions of television viewers on the BBC's One Show, said: 'For years astronomers have been asking for more to be done to allow us to see the night sky and this would help us.
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'A concern we have had is that England has had a wonderful history for leading the way in recording the night sky, but the problem has been that we haven't been able to see it.
'Hopefully if more people are able to see the stars, more kids will discover astronomy. I think the interest is there and these youngsters want to be inspired, but they haven't had a good view.'
Last summer researchers revealed one fifth of the world's population is unable to see The Milky Way - a luminous band of stars - in the night sky.
Mr Thompson said the switch-off might not be enough to make that clearly visible from Norwich, but said it would make it easier to view the stars from Seething Observatory, because the glow of light pollution from the city would have less effect.
County Hall says lights will be kept on in main roads, in the city centre and in high-crime areas, while exemptions will be applied to keep lights on in areas with CCTV and where police say turning them off would increase crime.
Those exemptions will be decided by Mike Jackson, the county council's director of planning and transportation, with assistance from Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation.
But opposition councillors have raised concerns about that process and have 'called in' the decision for a closer look at tomorrow's cabinet scrutiny committee meeting.
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