Transport Talk with Don Mackenzie: Shedding light on street lamp debate

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There is considerable interest in the County’s current programme of streetlight replacement in the centre of Harrogate. I would like to explain to readers what is happening.

First some general facts:

There are 62,000 streetlights in the county, of which 50,000 are owned and maintained by NYCC, the rest by the districts or parishes. And 15,000 NYCC streetlights in Harrogate borough, of which 10,500 in Harrogate town and Knaresborough. Some villages have no NYCC streetlights – in Bishop Thornton and Wormald Green they are all owned by HBC. There are 600 cast iron streetlights in the borough and a few concrete ones. Numbers have been declining for many years.

NYCC started replacing sodium lamps with LED lighting in 2014. This type of lighting brings many advantages, just as earlier switches from gas to electric, and from incandescent to sodium did before. The county’s engineers estimate that we save up to 80 per cent energy costs with white light LEDs, which markedly improve visibility. It is more controllable and can be directed downwards better to reduce light pollution. We have installed 5,000 so far.

To respond to comments made in letters and articles published in this newspaper concerning the decision to replace some of the old cast iron streetlights with steel units, I do not believe that the County is destroying the heritage of the borough.

There is evidence to suggest that most of these old converted gas lights were acquired second-hand from Leeds Corporation in the 1930s and Harrogate added the swan neck fitting and electric lights. For example, underneath the black paint on the lampposts we find dark green paint as used by Leeds Corporation decades ago. The lampposts are found in 1950s housing estates suggesting that they are not originals but were recycled from elsewhere.

I have discussed the matter with Martin Weeks, former Chief Engineer of Highways at HBC during the time when Harrogate managed the local roads under an Agency Agreement with NYCC.

Martin shares the doubts about the Harrogate heritage of the cast iron posts and agrees with the county’s engineers that the fitting of the swan neck to the columns led to many problems caused by corrosion and wear and tear.

The county’s engineers and I worked closely with Harrogate Civic Society to explore the possibility of keeping a reasonable number of the cast iron lampposts in use on the highway in conservation areas, in the town centre and near the Stray. We took a cast iron column to a specialist workshop in Ripon where an access door was cut out of the base to allow for an internal electrical connection to be made, rather than have the supply connected to a separate, external junction box at the top of the column, as is the case now.

The trial was not found to be successful because it was considered that the cast iron column would be even more brittle with the door cut out, and no safe earth connection could be made.

We have agreed to let the Civic Society have 50 cast iron units for them to convert for use away from the highway.

Lighting engineers are regularly called out on emergency duty to deal with cast iron lampposts which have been hit by vehicles and have broken in half leaving live power cables exposed. Such an incident occurred as recently as Monday April 11.

Ealing in London has converted some of their cast iron units at a cost of £3,000 each compared with £900 for a new steel unit fully compliant with modern standards. Affordable perhaps for a few lampposts but not value for money to the taxpayer when hundreds of units are being upgraded, leaving aside the future savings in lower maintenance and running costs.

English Heritage informed us that they have no interest in preserving our cast iron lampposts, with a few exceptions. Those are the very handsome heritage units with square lanterns, like those near the Royal Baths building, which we will replace on a like for like basis in consultation with Harrogate Borough Council.

The streetlight replacement programme for Harrogate town centre, originally scheduled for November 2015 but delayed to allow further consultation, will start now. New lampposts will be placed close to existing ones, but generally at the back of footpaths rather than at the kerbside for better protection against vehicle strikes and less obstruction to pedestrians.

In a welcome move, Harrogate Borough Council has agreed to continue to fund the purchase of embellishment kits to be fitted to the new steel poles to create a heritage effect in areas near the Stray.