Street Lighting

By Mick Scrimshaw on November 12, 2014

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I’ve just written a response to a resident who has complained half the street lights are still turned off on their road leaving them in darkness and I was writing I got more and angrier so just wanted to share my response with someone...

Dear Resident,

I fully sympathise with you about the lights issue, and this is something I’ve been campaigning on for a while. Firstly I’ll explain the reason behind the switch off and the current situation.

As you know about three years ago the County Council switched off a lot of street lights to save money as you say. The money saved was, and is, being used to replace all the street lights in Northamptonshire. The reason they needed replacing was two-fold, firstly a lot (but not all) were getting old and in some cases dangerous in that the posts needed to be replaced, and the other reason was they used old technology and were expensive to run. So the idea was to replace all the lights with new low-energy ones that would be cheaper to run in the long term. It was felt that there wouldn’t need to be quite as many to meet the minimum lightly levels set by national government.

So a five year replacement programme was started, and about half the lights were turned off to help fund this. Each road and street in Northamptonshire is being done in turn and when the new low energy lamps are put in then they are all turned on (although there won’t be quite as many as there was before and they may be in slightly different spots). However, this means that some streets were done at the start of the programme(three years ago) and others will have to wait a lot longer (yours for example), and some of course will be the very last to be done. This seems wholly unfair to me as I don’t see why some people will have to put up with poor lighting for the whole five years and others only a very short time.

The other issue is about safety and security, but the County Council have consistently said that as the highways authority they are only interested in how this affects the roads and traffic. They have not taken into consideration difficulties in pedestrians walking in the dark, nor what effect in may or may not have on either crime or the perception of crime. One councillor from the council’s ruling cabinet (that's the group of councillors who effectively make all the decisions on running the council) said in a public meeting that people should carry torches if they wished to go out at night.

I am extremely concerned the effect this is having, especially on older residents who tell me they feel nervous about going out at night and some who literally feel trapped in their homes after dark.

Andy Sawford MP for Corby has been trying to raise this exact point to the County Council for some time but our Kettering MP, Phil Hollobone does not agree despite there being public support for a change on this policy, and there is no support from within the Council’s cabinet. I conducted an ad hoc survey a while ago to see if people wanted the lights to go back on until the replacement programme was completed, and of the nearly 300 odd people I spoke to I think it was about 90% who agreed.

I have consequently called for all the lights to be switched on until the programme is finished and have the Labour Group’s support to work with finance officers to find a way to cost this.

However, this is not going to happen I’m afraid as the council are refusing to alter their view and will not budge from this line. They have also stopped Councillors or members of the public addressing individual cases. It used to be that if there was a particular light that needed to be switched on, if we found another that could afford to be switched off, we could arrange for them to be switched in the way you suggested in your original email. They will no longer even let us do that!

I have recently been given the figure of about £1.5m to turn all the lights back on and have also been told that the accident rate on country roads where they’ve been turned off completely has gone down (I’m not convinced) and that anecdotally the police are telling them that crime has dropped in the areas where the lights are off (I’m certainly not convinced of that). I am working with colleagues to come up with a solution where we can at least ask for some lights to be turn on for the duration, but I’m afraid we don’t expect to get agreement and are really just doing it to remind the administration about the strength of public concern which is something we’ve done again and again.

When I was first elected about a year and a half ago I wrote a very polite and constructive email to the leader of the council and each and every cabinet member on this issue, and didn’t receive the courtesy of a single reply, and I’m afraid that opened my eyes to the challenge I’d face in getting them to change their mind.

I remember a couple of years ago before I was elected when this scheme had first started, attending a meeting of the Kettering Town Forum where an officer from the County said that his concern was only one of road safety and he was not able to consider public safety issues (crime or the risk of people tripping). I think that was, and is still a sad reflection on the ways the Council sometimes works, clearly they should be working with more joined up thinking and we should take the whole picture into consideration. The cost of one elderly person tripping in the dark has the potential to be far in excess of any small savings by having a few lights turned off on a road!

I have contacted the relevant council officer to ask them to send you the ‘official’ line but I don’t think it will alter to much from what I have tried to outline above (although I’ve been asked to be copied in although I hope at least they may be able to tell you when your road is due to have its new lights.

Mick Scrimshaw is the Leader of the Labour Group at Kettering Borough Council, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance at Northamptonshire County Council. He has a public record of standing up for Kettering as a County Councillor for the Northall division in Kettering, Northants and since May 2015, a Borough Councillor for the William Knibb ward. He is a keen cyclist and also runs a family business with his wife.

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