Duke in battle of lights

April 24, 1998

Cambridge University chancellor, Prince Philip, has been called on to settle a five-year battle over plans to erect floodlights near the Institute of Astronomy, which scientists say will harm research.

Since planning permission was first sought in 1993, astronomers and preservationists in Cambridge have fought bitterly against university authorities' plans to light the university athletics ground at Wilberforce Road.

The astronomers, led by Roger Griffin, a reader in observational astronomy, argue that the lights will "pollute" the night sky, damaging research by obscuring the view. Local residents have complained about the lights destroying a green-belt site. There have been compromises put forth and proposals withdrawn, but Cambridge resubmitted a planning application late last year.

Opponents have collected 500 signatures to lobby the local council over the plans, and academics at Cambridge have protested to the university.

Earlier this month, Christopher Jeans, a geologist at the university who lives near the sports ground, invoked a disciplinary statute against the vice-chancellor over his handling of the plans. The vice-chancellor did not respond within the ten-day deadline, and this week, the protesters collected more than the minimum 50 signatures to lodge an appeal with the chancellor, the Duke of Edinburgh.

"The university has repeatedly tried to get planning permission to floodlight the athletics ground with lights that are vastly brighter and uglier than could possibly be needed," Dr Griffin said in a call for signatures from his colleagues.

A spokeswoman for Cambridge said: "The university has said it wants the sports ground to be available to the public. Some are in work or at school, which means that floodlights are necessary, especially in winter. We have applied for planning permission, and the council is in favour. The question of the lights themselves is now with the council."

She confirmed that the chancellor had been appealed to over "procedural matters", not the detail of the plans.

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