Balfour Beatty — lighting contract is not working that brilliantly

Has your street had new lighting yet?

We are in Phase II of the County Council streetlight replacement programme, the PFI which replaces all the lights in the county with new ones, in the interests of cutting energy costs by 50%. Phase II is going a bit better than Phase I, but I am hearing about lots of problems.

While the idea is excellent – new lights using half as much energy – it is being badly handled by the contractors, Balfour Beatty, to whom the Council has handed responsibility for communication and consultation with residents as well as implementing the programme. Plans of which lights are staying or going are highly technical and you need to look at them on line – not possible for everyone. Notice is short, while if you contact their Customer Services Department you get an auto-message promising an answer in ten working days – locking the door after the horse has bolted in many cases.

The contract was written a long time ago, and failed to take into account the needs of vulnerable people, the historic nature of our city, and had no ‘wiggle room’. The Tory councillor in charge of Highways infrastructure admitted yesterday, ‘If I had the opportunity to rewrite that contract, I would.’

I am concerned about one particular street in our area, where a light will be removed outside the home of someone with a disability – in a road which has had more than its fair share of burglaries. There are cracked pavements and removing the light could put the safety of disabled and elderly residents at risk.

Residents want to see the light retained or others repositioned so that it doesn’t leave such a big gap, but there is little room for flexibility.

And in Blinco Grove, one of the city’s 19th century streets, the elegant cast iron street lights are being replaced with modern ones as a safety measure. Residents value the distinctiveness of the old lights and believe that if they must be replaced, the new lights should be in keeping with the historic street. The lights are scheduled to be removed on Friday (21st Feb), which leaves no time for residents to respond to the consultation, especially as many families are on school half term.

I have asked for the removal to be delayed so people can be briefed on the need for replacement and give them time to identify funding for lights of a more traditional style.

What would be your top three choices for new mobility crossings?

18 years of dropped kerbs!

Could I have a dropped kerb on Blinco Grove, please?

That was the very first thing I was asked to do as a new councillor back in 1994 when I was first elected. The request came from a lady who used a wheelchair and needed a dropped kerb near her home, (‘mobility crossing’) in order to cross the road. I am sorry to say that I had a forest of bureaucracy to fight through before we got the dropped kerb. Nevertheless, it is a request that comes up time and time again.

I was pleased to help, but it was only when I tried to cross East Road wheeling a friend’s toddler in a pushchair that it really came home to me how difficult it is to do a simple thing like crossing the road if the varying levels of kerb and road mean your wheels don’t work. At the time, I drew a deep breath and heaved up the pushchair  – and thought about how much harder this would be for someone in a wheelchair.

Over the years I’ve been a councillor there have been many new dropped kerbs in Queen Edith’s. Although the public highways are really the responsibility of the County Council, the City Council has funded many dropped kerbs through its environmental improvements programmes. I think the most recent one round here is on Hills Road, to allow easier access from the hospital to Nightingale Avenue.

If you have ideas for new ones in the south of the city, please tell me or one of the other councillors. as there is a possibility we may have funding for a few new ones.