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Stormont releases £1m to fix 7,000 street lights as Northern Ireland leaves the Dark Ages

By Noel McAdam

Published 26/11/2015

Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen with operative Michael Maguire as she announces extra funding to tackle the backlog of broken street lights
Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen with operative Michael Maguire as she announces extra funding to tackle the backlog of broken street lights

Stormont is switching the lights back on to prevent another winter of darkness.

A £1m spending boost will mean a backlog of broken street lights being tackled "immediately", new minister Michelle McIlveen announced.

Her Department for Regional Development (DRD) says an official total of 7,000 lights are out at the moment - but believes the real number is much higher.

Almost 20,000 lights went out across the province during last winter.

The new cash was released after the Fresh Start deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP last week.

The agreement included a deal on welfare reform that allowed the share-out of unspent departmental cash to go ahead.

It is the latest in a series of feelgood announcements in the aftermath of the agreement, following a major £47m injection into the health service and £16.5m for the maintenance of roads, which also comes under Ms McIlveen's DRD.

But there was controversy, too, after the DUP lambasted previous minister, Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy, for using spending round money for emergencies and accused him of poor budgeting.

Adrian Cochrane-Watson of the UUP, a member of the regional development committee, said: "Having pilloried Danny last winter, the DUP did not want to embarrass their own minister, but had to cough up the millions required to adequately fund the department."

However, the DUP hit back in turn.

"Since Michelle McIlveen was appointed as minister action is finally being taken to benefit the lives of people across Northern Ireland," it said.

"She was not in post when the department's spending priorities were set for this financial year and is therefore using every opportunity now to fix the problems left for her by the previous minister."

It also emerged that all of the extra funding will be used to employ private contractors to supplement the department's internal workforce, which is already carrying out "as many of the repairs as they could".

Normally, private contractors carry out about 75% of street light repairs, with the remaining 25% down to the DRD staff. Work orders have been issued to contractors and the task of conducting repairs is already under way, a statement added.

Hailing the funding as good news for the public and for employment, Ms McIlveen said: "It is clear that the rising number of broken street lights and potholes has been a real cause of concern.

"Broken street lights are a major cause of concern for the public, particularly during the dark winter nights.

"While we have reports of over 7,000 lights not working, we expect the real number to be much higher. We have now ramped up the service, and TransportNI is working with external contractors to carry out repairs and clear the backlog, which is expected to take a number of months.

"I want to assure the public that this funding will be used immediately to address these issues."

In addition to the £16.5m funding for routine roads maintenance and street lights, DRD also received £5m for structural maintenance of roads, £2m to continue the concessionary fares scheme and £600,000 for community transport.

To help identify broken, damaged or faulty street lights, DRD has developed an online system on NI Direct. Simply visit, http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/street-lighting-and-reporting-a-fault

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