Shining the light on LED black spots
The switch to LED street lights in Palmerston North has highlighted a range of blind spots.
Not just those gloomy patches in streets that simply don’t have enough light poles pointing in the right directions, but in whether our elected watchdogs have been paying attention.
In recent weeks councillors have had their ears chewed by residents displeased by the results of the switch over in their streets, with some, like those in Martin St, seriously concerned about their safety after dark.
Councillors have passed on the message to management and staff with a few raised eyebrows and the odd ‘‘please explain’’.
Mostly, their displeasure has been about why the new lights have been fitted in neighbourhood streets where council staff already knew the lighting was insufficient.
There was a call to halt the whole project while assessments were made about what it would take to bring everything up to standard, putting a potential $3.4 million government subsidy in jeopardy.
A compromise was agreed. No arterial routes will be switched over where it is known there are already shortcomings, and plans to upgrade residential streets retrospectively will be developed.
Newly-elected councillors excused, perhaps, it should not have come as a surprise to councillors that the LED programme was simply about replacing the lights, not shifting or extending or changing the arms on any poles.
And it might be councillors could have interested themselves somewhat earlier in what is one of the biggest spends in the budget – $2.1m in the residential streets alone.
A search through the files shows there has been more than six years of homework put into the project.
Take this media report from August, 2011.
‘‘Palmerston North is about to become one of the first New Zealand cities to make the switch to eco-friendly LED street lights.’’
Cascade Cres and a cluster of neighbourhood streets in Milson were to be one of the first areas to have the new lights installed, following a smaller-scale trial in Vivian St which had attracted no complaints.
In August 2013 the Milson trial was reported to have attracted positive feedback from residents.
Hillary Cres in Ashhurst and the block of Palmerston North’s Linton St between College St and Park Rd were signalled to follow Kensington Mews, Wharite Place, Massey St and Alan St.
The early trials cut energy use by 59 per cent. The lamps were lasting for 50,000 hours, compared to the conventional high pressure sodium lamps, which lasted 5000 hours.
Then in 2015, it was quite clearly stated: ‘‘The new lamps would replace the old ones in some 5500 of the city’s 7807 street lights in a simple changeover using existing poles and fittings.’’
A replacement programme. Not a review of the adequacy of the placement and condition of existing poles and fittings.
Did anyone ask then whether that was going to produce satisfactory outcomes? Not so far as we recall. Did anyone ask about whether street lighting pre-LED was up to standard? Or did they just assume it did?
The project could have, should have, been a glowing example of forward-thinking, caring for the planet, and achieving savings for ratepayers.
Instead, it has revealed a break down in communications, and people being kept in the dark.
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New LED lights have left many streets in the dark.