New Foxton streetlights give cause for concern

07:22 Friday 28th November 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Have you switched to low-energy light bulbs in your house yet? There’s this new generation of bulbs that promise to slash your bills and to last longer than the standard filament bulbs, and even the earlier low-energy type bulbs we were all asked to switch to in recent years to save money and the environment. Now streetlights are being upgraded too to the fancy energy-saving ones. But despite savings being made through this, not everyone in one Cambridgeshire village is welcoming them. Waseem Mirza has the story.
WASEEM MIRZA: I’m in the village of Foxton, and off of the main road, not far from the village shop, there is a brand new streetlight column put up. But what do people here make of it? Let’s find out. Hello. What’s your name?
LOCAL: Kimberley.
WASEEM MIRZA: This is a fairly recent development here, isn’t it? What do you make of it, and what’s experience of these lights so far.

LOCAL: I think they’re a bit too bright, and I’ve had one installed, and I find that they’re too bright. It disrupts sleeping. The colour used to be a soft warm sort of golden colour in keeping with the village, and now it’s very bright. It’s rather like daylight, and in fact when you come round the corner it hits you right in the eye, and it blinds you. And actually it’s quite unsafe actually for driving in the night, because your eyes are used to the dark, and you come round the corner and it’s quite bright, so actually quite unsafe.
WASEEM MIRZA: Now as you walk down the main road here through the village of Foxton you see brand new streetlight columns put up with a barricade around them. That signals that work is still ongoing to complete them. But if you turn off to a residential street, I’m just walking into St Lawrence Road now, and there are already finished streetlights up and running here, fresh in the ground I’m told in the last three days. So what do people here make of them?
LOCAL 2: Well the new lamps have been working about three or four days. They’re clearly much brighter than the old ones, so it’s easier for pedestrians and traffic. The only slight disadvantage is it’s a little bit bright in my daughter’s bedroom at night.
WASEEM MIRZA: So have you noticed a different change of colour in the light itself?
LOCAL 2: Well they’re certainly whiter than the previous ones, which were yellow, and to be honest, when you’re a pedestrian, it does seem brighter when you’re walking down the high street at night.
WASEEM MIRZA: So what could they do to make things better for people?
LOCAL 2: Well certainly the lamp that’s right outside our house, if they were to put some sort of cover between the light and the house, even if it was only a few inches square, it would obviously stop the light going into the bedroom.
LOCAL 3: I thought we were hard-up.
LOCAL 4: Hard up. Yes.
LOCAL 3 : If they say that these lights are more efficient, couldn’t they have just popped them onto the old lamps?
LOCAL 4: Yes that’s what I think.
LOCAL 5 : Well it’s not just here is it? Shelfords’s the same.
LOCAL 6: How many years before they get their money back? Ten years? Fifteen years? I don’t know.
WASEEM MIRZA: For you it’s become such an issue hasn’t it that you’ve escalated things yourself.
LOCAL 7: Yes well I did contact the council, and they did come round and put a shield behind my light. However it doesn’t really solve the problem. The shield isn’t big enough, and the light is too bright.
WASEEM MIRZA: And of course there are cooler lights and warmer softer lights available for in the home. Should more have been done, or more research have been done, before opting for a cool white light such as those on our streets here?
LOCAL 7: Yes I do think so, and actually it makes me wonder who made this decision, because I’m not in favour of it. I don’t really think it’s a very good one. My hope going forward is that somebody will investigate it. Personally I would like it returned to the soft golden light that’s more in keeping with the village and better for the environment, for the people who are living in the village.
DOTTY MCLEOD: That’s Waseem Mirza there reporting from Foxton. Councillor Susan van de Ven joins me now. Susan, is this just a question of change happening, and people being unnerved because there is a change, no matter what it is?
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: No. Well I think it’s an enormous project of course, and it’s happening all over the county. And it has been very disruptive in some villages, and less so in others. Some of the problems that have occurred in villages that I represent including Foxton actually over the last few years have been improved a bit, in terms of communication with Balfour Beatty who are carrying out this work. Yes there is obviously a change in the type of light as your first speaker was saying, and I know I found the lights in my village startlingly bright when they first came on. What’s maybe helpful to know is that there is a dimming process that happens, and I’m not sure if that will have kicked in in Foxton yet. But in other villages where the lights have been up for quite a while, they have gradually been deliberately dimmed, in order to save energy. And that is possible that that may make a difference in Foxton.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes. We’ve been told by the County Council that already in Foxton these lights are dimmed in residential areas by 40% between 10 o’clock at night and six o’clock in the morning. So you think that’s not happening right now.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Well I can’t .. I wouldn’t .. I think probably it is still surprisingly bright, and I think the issue of the light disturbing sleep is a very serious one, and if the shield that was mentioned hasn’t actually improved that situation then more work needs to be done. And I’ve actually been involved in trying to help get that shield on that particular lamp. So it does need to be revisited.
DOTTY MCLEOD: People said though that they would rather a soft golden glow. But these are energy-saving light bulbs. Maybe the soft golden glow should come from the knowledge that you are contributing to saving the planet by accepting these lights.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Well I’m not an expert on the technology, except that I know we need the control over dimming, and we need to save energy every year. And the lights are allowing the Council to do that. But clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement, and all of this needs to be taken on board. Unfortunately my understanding is that some of the advances in technology since the contract was agreed can’t be implemented. So we are not going to feel the improvements that we could, which is a great shame. But certainly those people who are experiencing problems within their bedrooms and their homes with too much light, I as their local councillor would want to know so that we can see what we can get Balfour Beatty to do in the way of adjustments.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Councillor Susan van de Ven, thank you for that. There is a number that you can call free if you have any questions or concerns, or if you think that the street lights outside your bedroom window are too bright. The number is 0800 7838247. We’ve got this statement from Cambridgeshire County Council. They say .. “The lights that have been put in are used widely across the country, and are within standard guidelines. They are cooler than the old yellow sodium ones, but are more energy efficient, and are dimmed in residential areas by 40% from ten o’clock at night to six in the morning. We’re also proposing to give parish councils the opportunity to dim lights further or for longer, as well as turning some off where appropriate. If people have light coming into windows and are unhappy then they can call the local Balfour Beatty office.” .. and that’s on the number that I just mentioned there. ..”Balfour Beatty will work with individual residents where light pollution is concerned, and we can rectrospectively fit shields and internal baffles to the columns.” They also say that they have only had three complaints from Foxton residents about this issue.