Shadow cast over West Berkshire Council's £7million LED street light scheme?
The council’s £7m scheme to upgrade streetlights to “glaring” LED lamps could ruin the appearance of the district, say campaigners.
West Berkshire Council has installed around 7,500 of the energy-saving lamps which now bathe many of our streets in a somewhat unfamiliar white light.
And, according to council figures, the scheme has already saved the local authority, which this week announced a fresh wave of cuts to public services, around £20,000 in energy costs.
However, Berkshire resident Tanja Rebel and national anti-LED campaigner Simon Nicholas have challenged the council over its choice of LED light bulbs, claiming that certain types of LED can be detrimental to public health and local wildlife.
Since the ‘upgrade’ scheme started in July last year, residents have complained about the bright glare from the lights shining into bedrooms, ‘dangerous’ driving conditions, as well as insufficient lighting at street level along footpaths and in front of homes.
Ms Rebel, who has previously approached Reading and Wokingham councils over their street lighting policy, is also concerned over the visual impact that the new money-saving lights will have on West Berkshire and is hoping to prompt the authority to put a halt on the scheme until further research can be considered.
LEDs are available in a variety of correlated colour temperatures (CCT), measured in degrees Kelvin (K), which determine the appearance of the light emitted.
The International Dark Skies Association (IDA), an organisation aiming to reduce light pollution, recommends that a CCT of no more than 3,000K should be used in streetlamps, as a higher light temperature would lead to potentially damaging levels of ‘blue’ light, producing the commonly seen “glare”.
West Berkshire Council has confirmed that the lights installed in the area have a CCT of 5,000K.
And while higher levels of blue light are more energy efficient, it has been linked to health issues, with some research indicating that blue light can suppress the body’s production of melatonin, resulting in sleep deprivation.
Mr Nicholas, who has campaigned against a number of councils across the UK over the type of LED used, said: “What they’re effectively doing with 5,000K is creating 24-hour daylight.
“A lot of these councils don’t know what they’re doing, they just don’t have the expertise.
“They haven’t considered all the information and the only advice they’re getting is from the manufacturer of the lights.
“Some of them, admittedly, are now taking note of the increasing body of research relating to the health issues, but some are still in complete denial and are refusing to budge.
“For me, West Berkshire Council need to justify their decision to shift away from 3,000K lighting and why they’re putting public health at risk.”
Ms Rebel, who works as a teacher in Newbury, said: “There’s this whole green agenda now, but it’s all about energy efficiency.
“No-one is considering the other effects such as the effect on health, on wildlife, on light pollution, or on the whole look of the town. The strong glare from these lights makes it feel cold and clinical.
“I am worried that short-term thinking could otherwise destroy the charm of this attractive town for years to come.”
The two campaigners have this week set up a meeting with West Berkshire Council in an effort to put a halt to the planned upgrade of the remaining street lamps, and to urge the authority to re-think their use of 5,000K LEDs.
However, in a statement defending the scheme, councillor Garth Simpson, West Berkshire Council’s portfolio holder for highways, called it a “success story”.
He said: “We expect it to save us around £290,000 a year through reduced energy and maintenance costs and this is money we can use to protect other frontline services.
“These use 5,000k white light, which is well within national guidelines and exempt from blue light regulations.
“This level of light provides the best balance between energy efficiency and visibility for our neighbourhoods.
“Anecdotally, we’ve had positive feedback, which supports our belief that the LED lighting provides a better and safer environment for the public.
“Where people have raised concerns about the new bulbs shining into homes we’ve worked with them to find solutions and we have a range of shields we can put on our streetlights to cut out glare into homes.”
The council says the brightness of the lights can also be controlled remotely, allowing them to be dimmed after a certain time of night, while the new technology will also automatically notify officers when lights stop working.
The council has also confirmed that around 400 heritage lights will not be upgraded to help preserve the character of the district, including lights in town centres such as Newbury and Thatcham.
The £7.24m scheme, which has received £5m of funding from central government, will see 10,000 streetlights upgraded to LED and is expected to be completed by the summer.