L.P.A.G. – Guidelines for the reduction of light pollution

General Guidelines

Chapter 1 Landscape & building façade lighting

Chapter 2 Service station & parking area lighting

Chapter 3 Security lighting

Chapter 4 Outdoor recreation area & sports lighting

Chapter 5 Street lighting

Exemptions, Glossary and references

The Maltese Islands possess a rich architectural heritage and a uniquely beautiful scenic environment. At night, outdoor artificial lighting has become an integral component of this built and natural environment. Thus it is important that such illumination is intelligently planned to complement this environment, is subtle and avoids over lighting, and provides a cohesive appearance for our cities and their neighbourhoods. Safety and security for persons and property are also of paramount concern, and it is necessary to recognise the importance of quality of light versus quantity.

And in order to preserve and enhance the unique qualities of the Maltese Islands’ rural and urban neighbourhoods and their visual environment, it is essential to encourage the highest quality of outdoor night-time lighting through the adoption of lighting standards. This is further corroborated through the widely used British Standard BS 5489, which states that “Light above the horizontal should be minimised in all installations, as it is wasteful, can be intrusive, and increases sky glow.” (BS 5489 Section 6.3 Road Lighting)

The goal of these guidelines is to promote a high standard of quality for lighting in commercial, rural and residential areas of the Maltese Islands, and to assist planning staff, architects, local councils, lighting designers and the general public with an understanding of the concepts behind good lighting design.

Alexei Pace
Light Pollution Awareness Group (LPAG)
September 2000


“To radically improve the quality of all aspects of the environment of both urban and rural areas.”

Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands (1990)

The night sky is an important part of the natural heritage of the citizens of the Maltese Islands and steps should be taken to minimise the amount of terrestrial light that shines up into the night sky.

Uplight from terrestrial light sources is wasteful and has made it increasingly difficult for anyone to enjoy the night sky because celestial objects are obscured.

Outdoor light fixtures that produce uplight usually also produce glare. On the other hand, outdoor light fixtures that do not produce uplight generally do not produce much glare. Glare often hinders visibility and produces a cluttered, unattractive nighttime environment. Glare should be kept to a minimum. Light that leaves a fixture in or near the horizontal plane produces glare.

Outdoor light fixtures should direct light only to where the light is wanted or needed. When practicable, outdoor light fixtures should produce light only when that light is needed. This will result in energy savings, as a lower wattage lamp may now be installed as all lighting is utilised instead of being spread out and wasted. This results in lower operating costs and more efficient utilisation of the light. Other benefits include improved night sky visibility, reduced glare, improved safety and security due to better nighttime visibility, and a more attractive environment.

Unfortunately most of the older outdoor lighting schemes in Malta have not been designed with this in mind. This lighting wastes not just electricity and thereby large sums of money, but more importantly the Earth’s finite energy resources. Properly-designed full cutoff lighting reduces operating costs, saves energy and prevents light pollution. This it does since no light is wasted up in the sky, and so a lower wattage lamp may be installed to achieve better lighting. It is a situation where everyone wins.

The Structure Plan and light pollution.

Unfortunately in the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands no mention is made of the problem posed by light pollution. On the other hand however, the Structure Plan policies do cater for light trespass and glare resulting from badly designed artificial lighting. Such policies include:

POLICY BEN 1: Development will not normally be permitted if the proposal is likely to have a deleterious impact on existing or planned adjacent uses because of visual intrusion, noise, vibration, atmospheric pollution, unusually high traffic generation, unusual operating times, or any other characteristic which in the opinion of the Planning Authority would constitute bad neighbourliness.

POLICY BEN 2: Development will not normally be permitted if, in the opinion of the Planning Authority, it is incompatible with the good urban design, natural heritage, and environmental characteristics of existing or planned adjacent uses, and is unlikely to maintain the good visual integrity of the area in which it is located. There will be a presumption against development which does not generally observe the design guidelines issued by the Planning Authority for built-up areas.

POLICY RCO 4: The Planning Authority will not permit the development of any structure or activity which in the view of the Authority would adversely affect scenic value because it would:

  1. Break a presently undisturbed skyline
  2. Visually dominate or disrupt its surroundings because of its mass or location
  3. Obstruct a pleasant and particularly a panoramic view
  4. Adversely affect any element of the visual composition – for example, cause the destruction or deterioration of traditional random stone walls
  5. Adversely affect existing trees or shrubs
  6. Introduce alien forms, materials, textures, or colours


The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) has recommended light levels for various outdoor lighting applications. These light levels should not be exceeded. Excessive light levels are unnecessary and wasteful and often result in light which is obtrusive, causing glare, light trespass, and uplight.

Uplight, glare, light trespass, and excessive light levels all make up light pollution. Steps must be taken immediately to begin the process of reducing light pollution caused by outdoor lighting in Malta.

Lighting fixtures should be appropriate to the style of architecture of the place in which they will be installed. Otherwise they should be concealed from view. Illumination levels should be appropriate to the type of use proposed, the architectural style of the structure and the overall neighbourhood.

Outdoor lighting in residential zones and outdoor lighting on real properties adjacent to residential zones should be designed so that it is compatible with the ambient lighting of the neighbourhood in which it is located.

Lighting should be designed, installed and operated to:

  • control glare,
  • prevent light trespass onto adjacent properties,
  • minimise direct upward light emission,
  • promote effective security,
  • avoid interference with safe operation of motor vehicles.

Lighting of building façades should be considered for appropriateness. Wherever practicable, lighting installations should include timers, dimmers and/or sensors to reduce overall energy consumption and eliminate unneeded lighting. Electrical service to outdoor lighting fixtures should be underground unless the fixtures are mounted directly on utility poles.

Generally speaking, the two types of outdoor lighting mostly used in Malta are the low pressure sodium lamps (LPS) which give off a characteristic yellow light, and the high pressure sodium lamps (HPS), which emit a pinkish-white light.

LPS lights emit their light in a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum, known as the Sodium ‘D’ line. However, because the light source (the lamp itself) is so large, the light is difficult to control and for this reason the use of smaller HPS lamps is preferred. In these lamps, the light can be controlled with a greater degree of accuracy.

As regards the efficacy of the lamp (the amount of lumens produced per Watt), LPS is more energy efficient at producing light, but HPS can sometimes be more efficient, in overall terms, in placing light where it is required and in maintenance costs. HPS lamps are used where efficiency is the most important factor and colour rendering is not as important.

The best outdoor lighting practice allows comfortable and safe vision while conserving energy and minimising environmental ill effects. Overall, the Maltese Islands’ cities, towns and rural areas lag badly behind this practice at present. Turning this around would assist development and prosperity and epitomise advanced technology, efficiency, environmental care, comfort and elegance.

City lighting needs to satisfy the shared and special needs of three main groups: city users, city residents, and tourists/travellers. Rural lighting tends to include more specific purpose or specialised functions. Regardless of these differences, outdoor lighting in general should follow established standards of illumination.

The single most important improvement that can be made to outdoor lighting is to eliminate glare by appropriate selection and shielding of all light sources. Where economically feasible, attention to improved uniformity of illumination is desirable.

Good colour rendering and glare and contrast control will also assist persons with subnormal vision. Poor colour rendering and low pressure sodium (LPS) lamps go together. The use of LPS in appropriate circumstances may confer special advantages in terms of graffiti deterrence, economy, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and minimal interference with astronomical observations.

Lighting and crime

Intense or continuous lighting does not necessarily assist personal or property security. On a historical basis, urban crime rates have increased together with the increase in urban outdoor lighting.

There is no reliable evidence that increased outdoor lighting reduces actual crime rates. Seclusion rather than dim lighting favours crime. Crime is a social problem, not a lighting problem. Bright security lights that produce glare do not prevent crime. No crime study ever commissioned* by the Department of Justice has been able to substantiate this claim. The best that can be claimed is that bright lights merely make people “feel” safer. Security experts recommend that a rapid change of the surrounding environment is the most effective for this task. Infrared proximity and motion sensors (such as PIR sensors) connected to security lighting or alarms are the most effective solution for burglary prevention because when lights go on suddenly it draws immediate attention from others. Bright glaring lights that stay on all night long go unnoticed because most people who see someone approaching under those conditions usually believes the person belongs there.

Empty offices should not remain lit after hours. Instead, presence sense occupation sensors should be used. These infra red occupancy sensors turn light off in unoccupied areas and turn lights on automatically when people enter. The technology utilises passive infra red (PIR) technology, which is the safest and most effective lighting control technology available, and can reduce lighting costs by up to 60%.

Luminaires with full horizontal cutoff to reduce glare are becoming more common world-wide for road, public and sports lighting. In the USA, modified ‘cobra head’ luminaires with a flat lens and ‘shoe box’ luminaires are widely used; both types having a full horizontal cutoff. Existing outdoor lighting along roads approaching most of our towns, cities and rural areas is excessively glary. Elegant minimalist urban outdoor lighting would enhance tourism in Malta and Gozo.

Unnatural urban sky glow caused by light pollution drastically reduces the visibility of most celestial objects, degrades aesthetic enjoyment and hinders scientific and recreational astronomy. Most of Malta’s population centres are more or less severely affected. The Milky Way is often blotted out. Light trespass by unwanted illumination across property boundaries can cause sleep disturbance and sleep loss, introduce pedestrian mobility hazards and contribute to road accidents. Light trespass control should be a general policy rather than a complaint response, pro-active rather than reactive.

Light Pollution and the environment

Urban light pollution threatens street trees, flora in nature reserves, parks and gardens. Upwardly directed floodlighting of trees disorients and dazzles nocturnal animals and insects. Exposure to intense floodlighting sources may result in permanent photochemical retinal damage in animals as well as in humans. Severe urban light pollution can increase night illumination by about two orders of magnitude and diminish the amplitude of the lunar light cycle, a factor of evolutionary importance for life on Earth. Some marine and aquatic creatures are known to be affected, including endangered species. Subjecting rivers, beaches, bays and coastal seas to avoidable direct or scattered illumination is environmentally irresponsible. Where there is a social need for summer night beach illumination, it should be dim, shielded to restrict coverage to the minimum and curfewed.

High levels of artificial ambient light curtail bird sleeping times. In localities subject at night to high levels of direct and stray light, even casual observations can indicate that changes in sleep-wakefulness patterns are exhibited in marine and coastal bird species.

Seagulls and other birds congregate above brightly uplit structures such as bridges and buildings, often constituting a bird-strike hazard to low overflying aircraft. Some circling birds are thought to die from exhaustion. In North America each year, about 100 million migratory birds die from collisions with illuminated high buildings and towers. Other birds are deflected from their destination by injury or disorientation or both and fail to breed. No plausible reasons are known that indicate brightly lit high buildings and towers in Malta are any less likely to be bird hazards.

Greenhouse gases and the Kyoto Summit

Light pollution and light trespass represent unnecessary greenhouse gas production. Binding targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were agreed for the first time by major industrial nations meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Kyoto in December 1997.

The Third Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, more simply referred to as COP-3, finally reached agreement after an all-night session and a one-day extension. The overall targets adopted for greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-12 are an 8% cut from 1990 levels for the European Union (EU), 7% for the USA, and 6% for Japan and Canada.

Energy savings

Using proper lighting saves energy. The replacement of defective or non-functioning non-cutoff luminaires with full cutoff luminaires, employing the same lamp type, can mean a substantial lowering in the wattage of the new full cutoff lamp needed to maintain a similar level of lighting on the ground, thereby realising a considerable cost and energy savings.