Mutiny in Cambridge over streetlights, as city tells county to stuff its switch-off

The county of Cambridgeshire is all set for an orderly streetlight switch-off starting next spring except for one problem: Its best known city, Cambridge, wants nothing to do with it.

The county council believes it can slash £272,000 from its annual power bill by going dark in many areas and dimming others, between midnight and 6 a.m. Many regions in the UK have already made such a move.

Cambridgeshire plans to pull the plug in April, but Cambridge, which ironically is the administrative centre for the county, has told it to stuff the darkness where the sun don't shine.

As reported by the Cambridge News, city council leader Lewis Herbert said: 'There are a long list of reasons why Cambridge, particularly more central areas, needs county lighting through the night, and we know local and force-wide police have major concerns too...

'Five more years of funding cuts means tough decisions for all councils but overnight lighting really matters to Cambridge, to our residents, to our businesses and to our visitors. Trying to shift the burden of county costs to district councils is also no answer to the difficulties all councils have.'

A county spokesperson told the Cambridge News that the April start date will allow time 'to work with communities and local councils to find solutions that meet their needs where possible,' adding that, 'we will also be working very closely with Cambridge City Council to look for joint solutions to meet the particular needs of the city, including safety and supporting the night time economy.'

The county plans to keep lights on at busy junctions, main traffic routes and where there is a lot of late night activity. Localities would pay an estimated £15 per column to keep on certain lights.

The switch-off is part of an ongoing plan to slash the county budget, as Cambridgeshire looks to carve £30 million from its spending this year, having cut £100 million over the past three years.

Cambridgeshire is familiar with streetlighting controversy. It is nearing the final stages of a £100 million project to replace or upgrade 55,000 streetlights with energy-efficient models, and to reduce the number of streetlights by 10 per cent.

The project stated four years ago, over which time residents have besieged the council with 7,000 enquiries and complaints, according to the Cambridge News. A Cambridgeshire spokesperson told Lux that almost all of those were enquiries, and that 51 were complaints for streetlights and other things, over the four-year course of replacing or upgrading about 40,000 of the 55,000.

At one point last autumn residents complained that contractor Balfour Beatty had not properly consulted with them on the changes, that lights had been removed should have stayed (and vice versa) and that the new lighting conditions were unsafe.

'Balfour Beatty work across all villages, towns and cities, they work closely with local communities as efficiently as possible to deal with problems as they come up,' the Cambridgehsire spokesperson told Lux. 'With a project like this we would expect some issues but we do monitor the performance of Balfour Beatty closely and ask for changes where required. The 51 complaints quoted in the FOI we have had are not just for street lights and this is after nearly 40,000 lights have been installed or replaced across the whole of the County.'

The village of Swavesey is threatening to claim for compensation for 'delays and mess'.

Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, Herbert said the council is planning a 13th July committee discussion about the county's plans. It could well be feisty, given that nothing seems to raise hackles more than streetlighting (see the many related stories below).

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Photo is from Raedwald via Shutterstock

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