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Comment: Share your views about footway lighting
5:22pm Thursday 14th March 2013 in Opinion
A council Leader is faced with many issues every day. Often they are addressed by consulting colleagues, with advice from officers or by using the web.
Last year, I became aware of an emerging problem that could not be resolved by conventional means. If not addressed properly, it would have far-reaching consequences for village and town lighting in Eden district. Other parts of Cumbria face the same issue.
The problem is that we are likely to lose a significant proportion of our footway lights in villages and towns around Eden.
We were advised that Electricity North West (who own, operate and maintain the North West’s electricity distribution network) would be removing footway lights from their electricity transmission poles, due to potential liabilities following the tragic death of a BT linesman, who was electrocuted while repairing telephone equipment that was sited on a pole.
Our reaction was to set up a review to identify the scale of the problem, identify some criteria to enable assessments of the condition and need for footway lighting and determine how we might involve communities in this work.
The report was duly completed and we set to work on involving our communities. A further concern is that many of our lights have old-style incandescent bulbs and it will soon not be possible to repair them because we must use low power bulbs and the existing fittings cannot be adapted.
Our position was not helped by the circulation of many completely unfounded rumours that the lights were going out and we were going to pass the cost of lighting on to town and parish councils. It was alleged that we had pre-determined the number and location of lights that would remain.
I was aghast at this because this could not be done without the input of our residents, who had first-hand knowledge of their settlements. We are getting this through an extensive consultation exercise with every parish and town council in the district.
The consultation is now well under way and is producing a range of interesting questions. The main question is how we will find the £1.6m necessary to address the problem.
Although the council is fortunate in having financial reserves, I believe that the Government should make a significant contribution.
For some very strange reason, footway lighting is not considered an essential service; consequently there is no recognition of this in our allocations from Government. The burden falls on our Council Tax payers.
In urban areas, highway lighting is a statutory service. Why are our rural villages different? We need to see equal treatment for rural and urban areas. We all pay our taxes.
Some people question the need for lighting altogether. Is this a valid claim?
My view is possibly, but the very least that we need to do is give our residents the option of lighting on walking routes to important amenities in a village – say to the pub, shop or post office (if there is one), at the point where children get off the school bus and near the village hall or school.
It will be more difficult to make a case for lighting in areas that are remote from the village centre or are in an area where few people walk.
Our parishes are responding well to the opportunity to contribute. However, I am always conscious that we may have missed something and this is where the readers may be able to help.
I am sure their comments and views will also help our neighbouring district councils, who are watching our efforts closely and will shortly be following in our footsteps.
Coun Gordon Nicolson, leader of Eden District Council