75% of street lights that went out last month aren’t fixed
The lights will be going out across Northern Ireland this winter – and not coming back on, a Stormont minister has warned.
Already more than three-quarters of street lights which have "outed" since August have not been repaired - only 1,134 have been fixed out of a total of 4,938.
As negotiations begin over the share-out of unspent departmental cash, regional development chief Danny Kennedy told the Belfast Telegraph: "Let me make it clear, my department has only a quarter of the resources required to provide the normal level of service.
"Unfortunately this means many street lights will be out over the winter."
The stark admission – also facing other areas of maintenance, including roads – came after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that malfunctioning and broken street lights close to senior citizens housing in east Antrim have not been replaced.
A letter from a senior DRD official said all 'new works' orders for contractors have been suspended following the Executive's last spending round – when £78m was cut from all departments except health and education.
Departments are likely to face further cutbacks if, as expected, the DUP and Sinn Fein agree to pump another £60m of the available money into health.
Mr Kennedy said: "The impact of the budget cuts is that faults like this will take longer to have repaired than this time last year.
"This is not the level of service I want my department to provide, but that unfortunately is the current situation.
"I have to set priorities and live within my budget."
Around 20% of the department's maintainance budget goes on street lighting – 8% on street lighting repairs and 12% on electricity and electrical hazards.
The main slice from the budget (36%) goes on general maintenance work such as roads patching, resurfacing, footways and cycle paths.
Almost a quarter (23%) is what DRD calls "routine" work such as embankments, grass-cutting and gully-emptying.
A further 11% is traffic-related including road markings, signage and safety fences.
The breakdown came as Mr Kennedy told MLAs earlier this week his department has already achieved savings of £106m in the past three years but now faced further pressures which would affect services.
Mr Kennedy said priority would be given to public safety.
"Of course, when faults present electrical or other hazards, they will be dealt with urgently," he said.
"We will then prioritise faults in groups of street lights and deal with as many single outages as we can."