Heritage Lighting Uprooted from Cambridge Conservation Area

victoria_street08:22 Tuesday 18th March 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: There’s anger in Cambridge as work to replace street lights sees some so-called heritage columns being removed in the city centre. The County Council are replacing all 55,000 street lights in the county to make them more energy efficient. Well I’m joined in the studio by Cllr Ed Cearns. Ed, morning.
ED CEARNS: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Now you’re the LibDem County councillor for Market ward. You’re not particularly happy with all of this, are you?
ED CEARNS: No, I’m not at all, because we spent the last eight months in discussions with the County Council and with Balfour Beatty the contractors to look at what can be done to save some of the heritage street lighting. And then yesterday, unbeknown to us, they just decided to take some of it away, despite assurances that none would be taken away until discussions had been concluded about funding arrangements, to try and keep and restore some of the street lights.
PAUL STAINTON: Now these are very old street lamps, aren’t they? What’s so special about them? Why should they not be replaced?

ED CEARNS: Well because they’re some of the last of the historical. Some are Victorian street lights. They’re part of what makes Cambridge special. They’re part of what makes this an international city of historical reputation. And it seems extraordinary that in a Conservation Area, where people have to be very careful about their houses, street lights can be ripped out and replaced with something very ugly.
PAUL STAINTON: They’re cast iron though, aren’t they?
ED CEARNS: They are. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: And what sort of state are they in?
ED CEARNS: Well that’s been under dispute. And what was agreed was that none of it would be taken away until we could have the end of discussions about what was possible to be done with them. And it seems that Balfour Beatty, with the County Council, has just by-passed those discussions, and yesterday we discovered that they were taking them away.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you know what’s happened to them?
ED CEARNS: Well I was assured that they’d been taken to their depot. I don’t know where that depot is. It may be they’ve got a headquarters in Cambridgeshire, so it may well be there. But I was assured that they would just be kept until we would have a discussion about what’s going to actually happen in the fullness of time.
PAUL STAINTON: Council say that new street lights will be more energy efficient.
ED CEARNS: Well they are, and I would just point out this isn’t just about the heritage street lighting. Whilst we have been campaigning very hard to protect some of those, it’s actually about the whole way the contract’s been run. I was on the Scrutiny Committee last Thursday, and almost every single councillor round the table had problems in their districts. We had Oakington Parish Council talking about problems that they’d had, streets that are now just dark. I actually walked Victoria Street last night, so it’s not just about removing the heritage street lights, but it’s actually as you may be aware it’s removing up to 40% of street lights in a residential street.
PAUL STAINTON: Too much are you saying?
ED CEARNS: Too much. I walked Victoria Street last night. half of it is now in darkness.
PAUL STAINTON: Which is not safe in your opinion.
ED CEARNS: It’s not safe. Everyone knows that the standard of the pavements is not good, because there’s less money in the coffers of county councils now. So this just exacerbates the problem.
PAUL STAINTON: So the Council are making our streets unsafe.
ED CEARNS: I think there is a risk of that. Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: What do you want to see happen?
ED CEARNS: I w ant to have an assurance that no more heritage lighting will be taken away. And I’ve asked for a full member-led review, to look at all of the problems across the county.
PAUL STAINTON: And the response as yet?
ED CEARNS: There’s been a mixed response. Some councillors .. agree with that. But as anything, it’s a resourcing thing. And the senior management of the Council are quite bullish in that they’re saying, well there’a contract. But the issue is that the contract was wrong. The wrong contract was drawn up, and we’re now having to live with the consequences of that.
PAUL STAINTON: Ed, thank you very much for bringing that to our attention. Ed Cearns, LibDem councillor for Market ward. Not happy at all. Well a Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson says, “The work in Victoria Street involves replacing two cast iron lamp columns, which are well beyond their useful life in terms of structural strength, safety and maintenance. Local residents and councillors were informed of the work, and given the opportunity to make representations. The new lights will significantly improve the illumination of Victoria Street, and help the Council meet its environmental targets, while at the same time cutting the cost of electricity on lighting across Cambridgeshire.” Well you just heard from Ed. He disagrees with just about everything in that statement from the County Council.