Feature, Outdoor, Street

The town that rejected LED streetlights in favour of natural darkness

The residents of the Honeysuckles get to keep their night sky unlit after Wellington Shire Council voted to do the opposite of an LED roll-out: an LED roll-back.

When Wellington Shire Council installed light fittings to poles in the Honeysuckles as part of its LED streetlight role out, residents politely pointed out they were very happy with their naturally lit evenings and didn’t actually want their streets illuminated by artificial light.

“Local government has an assumption that towns want streetlights, but this was challenged by the people of the Honeysuckles”

Darren McCubbin, Wellington Shire councillor 

This rural town, adjacent to the Ninety Mile Beach on the south-eastern coastline of Victoria, has a permanent population of around 60 residents, which at least doubles in holiday periods. It is believed the streetlight poles were erected when the area was subdivided for residential use decades ago, but light fittings were never installed back then.

The Honeysuckles residents wanted to keep it that way. So much so that at a community meeting in 2007, it was formally noted in its community plan that streetlights should not be installed.  

‘One of the most attractive things about the Honeysuckles is its raw beauty,’ explained resident Corrinne Armour. ‘I often go for walks at night and rarely carry a torch. There is sufficient light from the moon and stars, and luminescence from the ocean and dirt roads.’

‘It’s really rural and really peaceful; having bright lights flooding such an environment with artificial light seemed crazy,’ she added.

Another resident, Bruce Renowden, said: ‘Our senses are deadened by the trappings of suburbia and modern technology and we are progressively loosing connection with our own natural environment. For all of us, children especially, this is a tragic consequence of modern life. In this small oasis, the Honeysuckles, many residents are acutely aware of this connection and value it highly.’

In Armour’s opinion, the money the council would have spent on the maintenance and energy use of streetlights in the Honeysuckles is better spent elsewhere.

He also pointed out that while some argue that streetlights deter crime, crime wasn’t an issue because there was none.

The hamlet of Honeysuckles on Ninety Mile Beach has around 60 inhabitants. Map courtesy of Wellington Shire Council.

After residents had made their reservations known to the council, the light fittings (which were not connected) were taken down. However, a few residents by then had decided they quite liked the idea of streetlights, and petitioned council for them to be reinstalled. Both sides presented their case and it was put to the vote; Wellington Shire Council voted 7-2 to support the long-standing community plan and the Honeysuckles remains naturally lit.

Wellington Shire councillor Darren McCubbin thought it was an interesting development. ‘Local government has an assumption that towns want streetlights, but this was challenged by the people of the Honeysuckles,’ he says. ‘Some people see streetlights as indicative of an urban, refined place, but this goes against the values of the people who live in this area.’

Renowden was delighted at the common sense attitude that the Mayor and Councillors took in rejecting the street lighting for the area. ‘They are to be congratulated. It may have been much easier to just install lights and be done with it, but they didn’t; they have enabled a special place to continue to be special. And in the process they are saving money, energy and disruption to the natural circadian rhythms all of living things, caused by street lighting.

Renowden believes the Wellington Shire has made a first step in what could become a cross-shire rethinking of streetlighting. ‘One size does not fit all,’ he says. ‘Light fittings themselves are also an area to be examined, as the current lens style throws out light indiscriminately and invasively in all directions, and could be much improved upon.’

The photograph was taken from Bruce Renowden’s garden facing east, by astro-photographer Russell Cockman.