Sky lantern festival plans for Sheffield spark flurry of complaints

A Lights Fest event in Austin, Texas, in 2016 (The Lights Fest)
A Lights Fest event in Austin, Texas, in 2016 (The Lights Fest)
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A sky lantern festival planned for Sheffield has sparked a flurry of complaints from residents worried about the potential fire risk and danger to animals.

The Lights Fest has staged numerous events in the US and Canada, at which participants are given one of the flying lights, also known as Chinese lanterns, and encouraged to write personal messages on the outside before releasing it into the night sky.

The Lights Fest says its lanterns are customised to ensure safety and environmental sustainability (The Lights Fest)

The Lights Fest says its lanterns are customised to ensure safety and environmental sustainability (The Lights Fest)

The company announced plans via Facebook last week for an event in Sheffield, declaring: "The Lights Festival is headed your way! It's time to join us for a magical evening like no other. Save your spot now for FREE to get the best prices."

The posting prompted an instant backlash, attracting 30 comments which were almost universally negative, and it appears to have since been removed.

Sue Bull commented: "I cannot believe that this irresponsible event is being allowed to take place."

Wendy Wylie wrote: "Awful lanterns. So damaging to wildlife."

And Tina Robinson added: "They look beautiful but how much damage and pain do these cause? They kill and injure lots of animals!!!"

Several councils in the UK have banned the use of sky lanterns on their land, and they are also prohibited at the Glastonbury Festival due to the fire hazard they pose and the harm they can cause livestock ingesting the remains.

A Chinese lantern was blamed for an inferno at a recycling plant in the West Midlands in 2013, and their use is opposed by the Chief Fire Officers Association.

The RSPCA, which claims 200,000 of the lanterns are sold in the UK each year, says birds and wildlife can become entangled in the wire or bamboo frames, or accidentally eat fallen parts, causing serious injury or death.

The Lights Fest website insists it prioritises safety and sustainability at its events.

The firm describes how it uses 'extremely safe' customised lanterns, made from non-flammable and biodegradable materials, which stay in the air for a shorter period to ensure they remain within the designated grounds of each event.

It also hires outside fire professionals to advise on safety, will not authorise the launch of lanterns in winds above 15mph and employs a dedicated clean-up crew.

The Lights Fest explains on its website how its events feature live music and other entertainment, along with food, but no alcohol is permitted for safety reasons.

"Our mission at The Lights Fest is to create a transformative experience for families and friends, enabling them to share their light with others," it states.

Sheffield is one of a number of places in the UK where it plans to stage events, with others including Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds.

All the UK locations are at the 'pre-registration stage', with people invited to express an interest, and no date or specific location is given.

A spokeswoman for Sheffield Council said it had not been approached by organisers.

She added that the council had no definitive policy on sky lanterns but if approached would consider all aspects and would discourage the event if it was considered it would have a detrimental impact on the environment.

The Lights Fest said the event was being marketed to people in Sheffield but would take place at a yet-to-be-announced location around 45-60 minutes travel from the city.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue said as far as it was aware it had not been contacted about the event, though there was no legal requirement for organisers to do so.

"Whilst flying lanterns are a popular and beautiful sight, the potential damage they can cause is significant. In common with many other fire and rescue services, we discourage their use," added a spokesman for the brigade.

"Lighting and launch are mostly in the control of the user. However, the actual flight path and destination are usually not. There is no guarantee that the fuel cell will be completely out and cooled when the lantern eventually lands and we are aware of fires elsewhere in the country which have been caused by sky lanterns."