New guidelines aim to dim Hong Kong's lights

HONG KONG -- Advocates hope they are just the first step to combat light pollution.
Written by Vanessa Ko, Contributor

HONG KONG — To combat Hong Kong's overly bright lights, the government has taken the first step of establishing guidelines for businesses to follow voluntarily. But it is still to be seen whether tough legislation will ever come into effect.

Lights are a trademark of Hong Kong, drawing throngs of tourists to enjoy a glowing nighttime skyline. But some residents and environmental groups have griped for years that many of the neon billboards, spotlights on advertisements and ostentatious storefront lights drain energy and are sometimes just annoying.

New guidelines were introduced this week to encourage commercial buildings to turn off their lights. But these measures were largely common sense, such as turning off lights after business hours and choosing energy-saving hardware.

The plan is to implement the guidelines for three years, and then possibly create technical standards that would legally regulate external lighting.

The glare of Hong Kong’s lights has become so notorious that green group Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong has held tours to show people around the areas most polluted by such signage. It’s probably not what the local Tourism Board had in mind for visitors.

Last year, flat owners of a residential apartment building tried to sue over a three-storey tall flashing LED billboard on an adjacent commercial building. They said the bright light was lowering property prices as potential buyers who realized the glare out the window lost interest in the flats.

Some are calling for legislation, but it’s a tough sell. Businesses think they have to literally outshine their competitors to attract customers. Existing laws in other countries, such at the U.K., say that plaintiffs have to show that the lights are causing a “nuisance.”

Because of the seemingly fuzzy definition of nuisance (in the U.K., it is basically something that interferes with the use of one’s property), some advocate enacting technical standards as a more clear-cut solution.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Eckhard Pecher

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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