Racecourse lighting 'too bright'

STARGAZERS in Essex have joined calls for a review of floodlighting at a new racecourse.

Roddy Ashworth

STARGAZERS in Essex have joined calls for a review of floodlighting at a new racecourse.

The North Essex Astronomical Society has asked its members to contact planning officers at Chelmsford Borough Council after the recent “switch on” of overhead lights at the Great Leighs Racecourse near Braintree.

The lighting system at the racecourse, which opened in April, was first publicly turned on in its entirety at a race night on August 14.

But since then concerns have been raised about the amount of light generated at the track - the first new racecourse to be built in the UK since 1927.

Now the astronomical society has placed a message on its website saying: “Light pollution is a major issue in our region and if we want there to be any dark sky in the area we need sites like the new racecourse to take a much more considered approach to large scale lighting.

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“Please try to make a difference and let the council be aware of the problem - it only takes a few minutes to send out an email.”

The floodlights at Great Leighs were installed by specialist firm Musco, regarded as global leaders in sports stadia lighting, and were manufactured in Arkansas, USA.

More than 70 sets of overhead lights are fixed to piled bases which surround the mile-long track.

Soon after Musco was appointed in 2004, the racecourse issued a statement saying that the problem of light pollution had been taken into account when designing the system.

“Illuminations mounted on columns only half the height of some sports stadia elsewhere will create a seamless 'halo' of light to minimise night-time pollution, while meeting Jockey Club specifications for both horse racing and Great Leighs' on-site training facility,” it read.

But James Abbott, a Green Party member of neighbouring Braintree District Council, said that since the switch-on there had been complaints from a number of residents near the track.

He added that after conducting his own tests he was concerned about the amount of light emitted, and especially the dazzling effect it could have on drivers using the A131, which runs alongside the new track.

“I live six miles away and they are lighting up the clouds,” he claimed.

Nobody from Great Leighs Racecourse was available for comment yesterday.