Subject: environmental affairs, light pollution, external lighting

Figure 1 - Complaints over external lighting in Hong Kong, 2013-2018

Figure 1 - Complaints over external lighting in Hong Kong, 2013-2018
 Source: Environmental Protection Department. 

  • After a six-year policy review during 2009-2015, the Government decided not to take a legislative approach in regulating light nuisance due to "a lack of consensual view" in the community, paying regard to the operational needs of the business sector and the reputable night scene of Hong Kong. Instead, it launched a "Charter on External Lighting" ("the Charter") on a voluntary basis in April 2016, requiring signatory operators to switch off external lighting installations from late night till dawn (11:00 pm to 7:00 am). However, this could not halt the uptrend in complaints against external lighting, which soared by a total of 42% during 2016-2018.
  • Toronto in Canada has become another global city to tighten regulation of light nuisance in recent years, adopting a mandatory approach in 2010. As its living environment is broadly similar to Hong Kong in terms of (a) population density and (b) co-location of residential and commercial premises in mixed-use areas in downtown, this issue of Essentials provides an overview of the regulatory measures over external lighting taken in Toronto, after a brief discussion of those in Hong Kong.

Regulatory developments on light nuisance in Hong Kong

Regulatory developments over external lighting in Toronto


  • Regulation of external lighting needs to balance the concerns of various stakeholders, including residents and the adverting industry. While the Hong Kong Government is reviewing the effectiveness of the voluntary approach in the form of Charter, the respective measures taken in Toronto are more diversified, including (a) introducing measurable parameters on size and distance of illuminated signs; (b) establishing a dedicated enforcement team; and (c) imposing a tax/fee on erecting third party signs for cost recovery.

Prepared by LEUNG Chi-kit
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
12 July 2019


1.Pun et al. (2012).

2.Legislative Council Secretariat (2013).

3.GovHK (2017 and 2018).

4.Over the past three years, two Council Questions on light pollution were raised at the Council meetings of 5 July 2017 and 14 November 2018 respectively, while Members discussed light pollution in two motion debates held at the Council meetings of 16 November 2017 and 13 December 2018 respectively.

5.The study selected 14 overseas cities and economies including the Canadian Province of Ontario (with Toronto as its capital city) in accordance with the aspects of building forms, population density, economic activities, land use and building mix that are of comparable situation to Hong Kong relating to external lighting. As the study was completed in 2011 and did not cover the subsequent regulatory development in Toronto brought about by the passing of the Sign By-Law in 2010, this piece would focus on the regulatory measures introduced in Toronto since 2010 to assess its policy effectiveness over external lighting. See GovHK (2008) and Environment Bureau (undated).

6.Environment Bureau (2013 and 2015b) and GovHK (2011).

7.GovHK (2015 and 2018).

8.In 2016, about 48% of complaints on external lighting installation received were related to lighting for shops, signboards and video walls. Amongst the 18 District Councils, Yau Tsim Mong received most complaints in 2018, with 56 cases. This was followed by Central and Western (44 cases) and Wan Chai (41 cases). See GovHK (2017 and 2018).



11.With the advancement of lighting technology (i.e. big screens and special effects such as flashing lights), its cost has become more affordable. Notwithstanding the Charter, there are currently no ordinances specifically regulating light nuisance caused by external lighting nor lighting technology. See香港01 (2018年11月20日) and 明報(2016年7月25日).

12.GovHK (2018).

13.The density in the downtown of Toronto is amongst the highest in affluent cities.

14.Toronto City Council (2009a). 

15.There are nine categories of sign districts and seven Special Sign Districts in Toronto drawn up by the land use specified in the city planning. For residential districts and residential-cum-commercial districts, more stringent parameters are applied to minimize the nuisance to residents. See Toronto City Council (2016).

16.Toronto City Council (2013a, 2013b, 2015 and 2018c).

17.Sign variance applications are mainly considered by the Sign Variance Committee, a public board with experts in planning, law, economic development and citizen advocacy appointed by TCC, while TCC will consider applications which would vastly affect the land use caused by the proposed signs.

18.As reply by the Sign By-law Unit on 2 July 2019, the Unit reviewed some 2 000 sign permit applications per year, conducted 432 investigations and took 157 enforcement actions annually during 2011-2018. Complaints on signs cover many areas including building structure, lighting of signs and illegal signs erected in Toronto.

19.The TPST rates for 2019 ranges C$1,282-C$42,500 (HK$7,474-HK$247,775) per sign, of which the highest sign class (Class VI) are large electronic signs which are "the most significant contributors to light pollution" in the community. The tax burden is estimated to be less than 7% of the gross annual revenue of advertising industry in Toronto and indexed to inflation for annual rate increase. See Toronto City Council (2009b and 2018b).

20.Toronto City Council (2009a).

21.Toronto City Council (2018a).

22.Specific data on changes of revenue of outdoor advertising in Toronto is not available. As an indicator, the gross revenue of outdoor advertising in Canada rose by 39% from C$567 million (HK$3.3 billion) in 2010 to C$789 million (HK$4.6 billion) in 2016. Toronto was the top market for outdoor advertising in Canada, followed by Montreal and Vancouver. See Canadian Out of Home Marketing and Measurement Bureau (2019).


Hong Kong

1.Environment Bureau. (2013) Task Force on External Lighting - Document for Engaging Stakeholders and the Public.

2.Environment Bureau. (2015a) Guidelines on Industry Best Practices for External Lighting Installations.

3.Environment Bureau. (2015b) Report of the Task Force on External Lighting.

4.Environment Bureau. (2019) Charter on External Lighting.

5.Environment Bureau. (undated) Study on overseas practices in guiding and regulating external lighting.

6.GovHK. (2008) The 2008-09 Policy Address - Embracing New Challenges.

7.GovHK. (2011) LCQ13: Study on regulating external lighting installations.

8.GovHK. (2015) Task Force on External Lighting submits report to Government.

9.GovHK. (2017) LCQ11: Light pollution.

10.GovHK. (2018) LCQ21: Light nuisance.

11.Legislative Council Secretariat. (2013) Adverse Health Effects of the Urban Hong Kong Environment. LC Paper No. CB(1)406/12-13(01).

12.Pun, C.S. et al. (2012) Report of Hong Kong Night Sky Brightness Monitoring Network.

13.《LED屏幕成本低 環團:自願約章難阻光害》,《明報》,2016年7月25日。

14.《大角咀工廈外牆晚晚閃擾民 管理公司連環保署都唔俾面》,《香港01》,2018年11月20日。

15.《戶外燈光約章成立一年 條街依然光到眼盲》,《明報》,2017年6月4日。



17.Canadian Out of Home Marketing and Measurement Bureau. (2019) Canada/USA: Facts & Stats. Available from: [Accessed July 2019].

18.Toronto City Council. (2009a) Appendix D - Analysis of stakeholder submissions.

19.Toronto City Council. (2009b) Third Party Sign Tax (TPST) City Council Briefing.

20.Toronto City Council. (2013a) Electronic and Illuminated Sign Study and Recommendations for Amendments to Chapter 694 of the Municipal Code.

21.Toronto City Council. (2013b) Planning & Design Review of Illuminated & Electronic Signs.

22.Toronto City Council. (2014a) Enforcement Strategy for Chapter 694 of the Municipal Code.

23.Toronto City Council. (2014b) Supplementary Report - Electronic and Illuminated Sign Study.

24.Toronto City Council. (2015) Electronic and Illuminated Sign Study and Recommendations for Amendments to Chapter 694.

25.Toronto City Council. (2016) Amendments to the Sign By-law.

26.Toronto City Council. (2017) Best practices for effective lighting.

27.Toronto City Council. (2018a) Report from the Treasurer and the Interim Chief Building Official and Executive Director, Toronto Building on Third Party Sign Tax - Review and Proposed Amendments - Attachments 1 to 4.

28.Toronto City Council. (2018b) Third Party Sign Tax - Review and Proposed Amendments.

29.Toronto City Council. (2018c) Toronto Municipal Code (Cap. 694) Signs, General.

Essentials are compiled for Members and Committees of the Legislative Council. They are not legal or other professional advice and shall not be relied on as such. Essentials are subject to copyright owned by The Legislative Council Commission (The Commission). The Commission permits accurate reproduction of Essentials for non-commercial use in a manner not adversely affecting the Legislative Council, provided that acknowledgement is made stating the Research Office of the Legislative Council Secretariat as the source and one copy of the reproduction is sent to the Legislative Council Library. The paper number of this issue of Essentials is ISE08/18-19.