Wigan in the dark?

SPENDING cuts could leave parts of the town in the dark, we can reveal.

Wigan’s street lighting service must make savings of at least £500,000, as part of the drive to reduce town hall budgets by a quarter over the next three years.

And one of the radical proposals put before councillors is too turn off more than 16,000 lights in residential roads – or 7,000 street lights currently illuminating main roads – to slash power bills.

However, there are less draconian energy-saving measures, which are more likely to hold sway when a money-saving report is considered by councillors next week.

In a report, executive director of environmental services Gillian Bishop says modern street lighting helps to reduce street crime and after-dark road accidents and injuries to pedestrians, and allows night-time leisure and economy-boosting enterprise.

Wigan Council maintains more than 41,000 lighting units – a 12 per cent rise over the past decade – costing £30m.

Energy consumption has risen 14 per cent and is costing the council £1.537m per annum, even though it is part of a consortium of 25 local authorities which buys electricity collectively in the search for savings.

Each main road street light costs £74 per year, and residential street lighting is £27.

Wigan is being urged to adopt new energy saving lighting products to save cash, and to undertake a review and application of appropriate design standards for street lamps.

The town will also adopt new technology which will save power by operating variable lighting levels on streets with quieter traffic flows.

Also under consideration is a plan to operate some street lights on a part -time basis from dusk to midnight, and 6am until dawn.

Gillian Bishop said: “Clearly, applying such a draconian approach as switching lights off to reduce energy costs and carbon reduction, would have a significant negative impact on all residents, road users and visitors to the borough. Therefore, consideration has been given to an alternative energy management strategy.

“This approach will aim to allow the council to meet some short term financial requirements and medium term environmental objectives, without suffering a significant reduction in a key front line service.

“Clearly a balance needs to be struck between meeting our community’s needs by maintaining lighting standards, and securing their inherent benefits against the financial backcloth of severe budget cuts.

“The council could take the decision toswitch off street lights across the borough, and this would result in lower energy consumption and associated costs. But that would leave the council with a substantial asset under-utilised.

“However even with the street lights not operating, there would still be a requirement for the council to cover the costs of maintaining the infrastructure in a safe manner, unless it was decommissioned, which would incur significant capital costs.

“If the council was to switch off street lighting for long periods, it would most likely still have to pay a standing charge for the connection to remain in the lighting unit. If the council could not demonstrate that it was maintaining the lighting supply in a safe manner, the electricity supply company would reserve the right to disconnect the supply from the light and recover its cost from the council.”