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Back to the dark ages?

This week, Powys Council have begun the process of switching off two thirds of their street lights in an attempt to claw back much-needed money. 9,380 lamps will be extinguished out of a total of 14,000 which Powys hope will save them £224,000 in energy costs. The move has provoked anger among residents who believe the reduced lighting will increase crime levels. However, more councils in Wales and several in England are planning to do the same, so is the shape of things to come?

Powys certainly hasn’t got it easy. It’s a very large county with a population of only 132,000, so it is struggling to make ends meet through Council Tax. The stress on its funds has been exacerbated by a 36% increase in energy costs which the council has said it is unwilling to pass on to the public. Instead they have chosen to switch off lamps they consider surplus to essential requirements.

It seems to me, and many residents, a drastic move, though we currently seem to be living in a world where such measures are appearing the norm. We may well have too many street lamps lining the roads and paths of this country, but they have been paid for by council tax payers and we have become used to them. Let’s not forget the reason they were installed in the first place; to increase safety and the perception of safety. Not to mention making life a little easier for those with sight problems. Plunging back into darkness hardly shouts ‘progressive’ and completely fails to take advantage of developments in energy-saving lighting and sensors.

I was at the Energy Solutions Expo at Olympia last week, which was awash with incredible new lighting technology, both in terms of lamps and control systems. This technology must be employed in our civic environments to ensure that energy costs are kept to a minimum and Councils are not wasting money on inefficient systems. Any decision to do this will obviously also be good news for the country's electrical contractors employed to install them.

It must make the decision even more galling for Powys residents when councillors attempt to soften the blow by claiming the switch-off will save 1,000 tonnes of CO2. Not much relief for a pensioner struggling to get home at night, is it? To be fair, Powys have been relatively frank that their main problem is with the balance sheets rather than fear of climate change, but still it came across as a very weak gesture.

Pembrokeshire Council have managed to commit to more of a compromise by switching off non-essential street lamps after midnight. Again, this may be OK for the majority of citizens, but for shift workers returning home at night on their own, the journey will seem that little bit more perilous.

If Powys and Pembrokeshire have taken the plunge into darkness, how many more will follow? This really should be a warning to other councils to invest in more controllable, low energy lighting systems while they have the chance. The investment will obviously be made back and from then on they will be less vulnerable to wildly fluctuating energy markets. So, maybe it will take such drastic action from councils such as Powys and Pembrokeshire and the resulting backlash from the public to push other councils into thinking long term by installing modern, efficient lighting systems in their streets.

Enjoy the newsletter,

Richard Scott

PS – Thank you for some very interesting responses to my piece on Part P last week. If you’ve not read them, they are below the article on this page:

Keep them coming in!

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