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Who put the lights out?

Two streets in Lurgan: one glowing in the gloom, the other plunged in darkness by Stormont’s cost-cutting LED bulbs

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 17/02/2016

The two contrasting streets in Lurgan
The two contrasting streets in Lurgan

This is the worrying image that reveals how a Northern Ireland town has been plunged into darkness by cost-cutting Stormont.

It shows Lurgan at night - weeks after street lamps were replaced by cheaper LED lights.

Around 8,000 LEDs have been installed across the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council area.

But the move has caused controversy, with residents claiming they do not provide enough illumination.

Our photo shows how the change has impacted Lurgan. In one corner a set of street lamps can be seen glowing in the gloom, while the rest of the town is in near darkness.

There are around 280,000 street lights in Northern Ireland. Energy and maintenance costs more than £13m a year.

LED is cheaper as the lights last longer and use less energy.

A pilot scheme for the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon area was announced by the then Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy last year.

In total, the scheme will convert around 15,000 street lights to LED at a cost of £3m. But unhappy residents contacted this newspaper to say the LEDs were "useless".

Billy Allen said LED lighting was installed in his neighbourhood in Portadown about two months ago. He called the quality of illumination "abysmal", adding: "You might as well not have lights. In the majority of cases they point on to the road, not the pavement. The road is lit, but when you're walking on the pavement it's darkness. It is like walking up a country lane. It is abysmal.

"It's also incredibly dangerous. Never mind the problem of criminality, it is a hazard for people out walking who could trip and fall.

"Part of the town has the old orange lights and the difference is unbelievable.

"You could be walking in a well-lit area and walk around a corner into pitch darkness."

Philip Kilpatrick, who lives in the Gibson's Hill area of Lurgan, said the quantity as well as quality of lights was an issue.

He explained that more lights were needed to compensate for the low quality of the LEDs.

"If there was a sufficient quantity then it wouldn't be so much of a problem," he said.

"Where I live, the lampposts are on one side of the street, and the old orange light lit up both sides. But there is a much shorter beam with the LED lights. The side of the street they are on is lit up under each light, but there is a gap between them where there is darkness. On the other side of the street there is virtually no light, as the beam doesn't go that far over."

David Jones, a Ukip councillor, said he had been inundated with complaints.

"The results of the scheme where it has been in action so far are disgraceful," he said.

"We have received a great number of complaints, perhaps the highest number ever on any issue, but despite contact with the lighting division nothing has changed."

The Department for Regional Development said it was trying to make the best use of new technology.

"The pilot project in the Banbridge and Craigavon areas aims to light roads and footways to appropriate lighting levels," it said. "It is characteristic of LED street lights to provide very good control of light distribution onto the road surface and have noticeably less light spilling into the surrounding environment. This is efficient from a road lighting perspective and helps to reduce unwanted light pollution."

The department said previous adjustments to street lighting had led to concerns until the public became used to the change.

"In future, most street lighting will be LED, and the older orange lights will become obsolete as manufacturers move to the new energy-efficient and long-life LED alternatives.

"Any complaints received about the new LED lights will be assessed and, where appropriate, reasonable adjustments will be made to try to address the issues raised."

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