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Giles Watling: EU lighting regulation will put UK hits such as Harry Potter at risk

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the West End. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Having been a director of more than 70 plays, an actor, writer, producer and at one time a lighting designer of my own productions, it could be said I have some experience in theatrical presentation.

Lighting design, thanks to significant advances in the technology, has now become a central feature of modern productions.

The UK is probably the finest exponent of theatre. By exporting to the world, not only the shows themselves, but their very success, we export British values and products. Yet, if we allow the EU Ecodesign Regulation for lighting, due to come into force in 2020, to become law in the UK, we will be cutting off one of our most powerful cultural limbs.

I understand things are moving quickly, and our theatres may be exempted from these regulations, which is great news. But if that doesn’t happen, these regulations would stop new tungsten lighting products from being manufactured in or imported into the EU. Many theatres depend on these products and simply cannot afford to replace them.

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I have spoken with many who might be affected, but perhaps the most powerful voice is that of West End producer Sonia Friedman. She told me that if these new lighting regulations were brought into force, her smash hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, currently playing at the Palace Theatre, would have to close – and that is just one of many.

This is unacceptable and would put at risk the achievements of the performing arts sector, which has consistently grown ahead of the UK economy for the past few years, while delivering more than £5.2 billion in exports – 84% of which leave the EU.

So, this sector must be protected and Brexit would offer us the opportunity to do that, as we will be able to make our own laws, benefiting our own enterprises, and this is one example where we should take that control.

But these regulations could be enacted before our withdrawal, as I understand that the regulatory committee will vote in Brussels on this regulation in October or November this year, before they come into force in September 2020.

This cannot be allowed to happen and I have contacted various government ministers to express my concern. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has now written to me to confirm that they understand the impact of these regulations can have, and that is why they are pushing the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to exempt professional stage lighting in theatres from this legislation.

However, while this response is encouraging, the Government’s analysis, which will only cover the UK as a whole, rather than specific sectors, will be rushed, and, as a result, I believe the government is in danger of not fully grasping the importance of lighting to theatrical presentations. Therefore, we must continue to keep the pressure on ministers to ensure our concerns are heard and we must ask that the government does more to mitigate the potentially negative impact of these proposed changes.

Because ministers should do more now – once we lose these shows, it will be a tough sell to get them back.

EU lighting proposals: Everything you need to know

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