New street lights blackout feared
Cuts could hit repairs just like last winter when 20,000 lampposts failed
Streets across Northern Ireland risk being plunged into darkness as Stormont spending cuts bite deeper, it has been claimed.
In the annual run-up to the clocks going back, there are growing fears that street lighting repairs will be hit for the second winter in a row.
Almost 20,000 lights went out across the province last winter, leaving many areas, including housing estates, in the dark.
Three lights from that period still have to be repaired, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) revealed. The DUP lambasted then DRD Minister Danny Kennedy for his approach to the crisis during the autumn and winter months, but now Peter Robinson's party is in charge. Ulster Unionist Mr Kennedy, who recently resigned, was criticised for waiting for add-on money from the quarterly share-out of spare cash between departments - the so-called monitoring rounds - to pay for repairs.
But his successor, the DUP's Michelle McIlveen, said she had already begun to examine "issues left behind", even though her party's protest policy means she is only in office a few hours a week.
UUP regional development committee member Adrian Cochrane-Watson predicted it could be "a very difficult winter" for the new minister.
"We just don't know how bad things could get during the next few weeks.
"As things stand, we have not yet finished the June monitioring round or started the October monitoring round, so it could be December before there is any more money coming," he said.
However, the DUP said Mrs McIlveen "has started the process of assessing how to resolve many of the outstanding issues left behind within the department".
"There are budgetary issues which will be impacted by a successful resolution to the talks which are still ongoing," the party said.
"Should progress be made and ministers can return to their posts, Michelle will hope to address a number of areas where the previous minister failed to act."
But Mr Cochrane-Watson hit back: "Danny Kennedy left the department in a very strong position and it is the DUP which could be left with egg on its face, not just on street lighting but on a whole range of areas."
The Belfast Telegraph first highlighted the issue last year after a memo from a senior DRD official was leaked.
Between November 1 and the end of January this year, almost 19,200 street lights were recorded as being faulty and out. In the same period just over a third of them, about 7,400, were repaired.
What to do
People should report faulty street lights using the following telephone number, 0300 200 7899.
DRD said as it was relying on its own workforce rather than contractors, street lighting defects will be prioritised so that electrical or structural hazards are attended to first "to ensure that any impact on public safety is minimised".
"For this reason it will take us longer than normal to repair routine defects," it added.