Part-night street lighting West of Exe – a review meeting

So we’ve finally had that meeting to review how part-night street lighting has been working West of Exe – and from my perspective in Cowick.

Joining me were Cllr Roy Hill (Alphington/Cowick) and Cllr Rob Hannaford (Exwick/StThomas), who sit on Devon County Council and Cllr Margaret Clark who represents Alphington on Exeter City Council.

The meeting was confrontational and fiery as we 4 councillors tried to sum up your (and our) frustrations about PNSL. Here’s some of the key points

During the lead-up to the introduction of PNSL (which started in Alphington and Cowick on All Fools’ Day in 2014), we were told that Exeter was no different from the rest of Devon…what in reality this meant was that “implementing the policy was perceived as no different”

I challenged them that of course if was different as Exeter was to use a different system to the rest of Devon, where the street lights are switched on and off by a time-switch.

Part-night street lighting in Exeter is controlled by a brand-new £1.7m computer-based Central Management System [CMS] approved by DCC Cabinet at a meeting on 11 April 2012 which allowed for much more flexibility and control over Exeter’s street lights.

The report that went to that meeting said: “The system would enable the County Council to dim or switch-off street lighting for part of the night. It would enable a combination of the two, so that lighting levels could be reduced progressively as traffic and pedestrian flows fall off, and then switch off for a period of the night. It would allow part-night lights to be switched back on in an emergency. It would identify lamp failures and lamps reaching end of life thus enabling a targeted approach to lamp replacement

I asked which system had been chosen and when. The officers from DCC confirmed that Harvard’s LeafNut system had been chosen, and  this was the preferred system referred to in the report that went to DCC Cabinet in April 2012.

Then the officers added something that came as something of a surprise…”there is no perfect system out there” . That’s what I wrote down at the time and is as close to verbatim as I can get,

So how does Harvard’s LeafNut CMS work?

LeafNut uses a TrunkNode central web server to communicate by GSM mobile phone to the BranchNode control units mounted in the light. The BranchNodes are in wireless communication with up to 256 LeafNodes, which are linked directly to an electronic ballast in each street light.

In setting-up the system, individual street lights need to be on (“day burn”) for a couple of days – No, I don’t know why, either!

When the area BranchNode loses contact with the individual LeafNodes, the whole system goes into a fail-safe” mode, which means that the street lights controlled by that BranchNode come on…even during the daytime!

Apparently, finding suitable locations for the BranchNodes is a matter of some “trial and error, however uncomfortable that may be” (close to a direct quote)

So this has led the officers to confirm to us that the implementation of PNSL “has not been problem-free” , there was “lots of hassle”, and they “were disappointed with the disruption” (again, direct quotes!). But the officers did confirm they were doing their best to reduce the impact of the problems

Whatever my thoughts on the PNSL policy, DCC were going to implement it across vast areas of Exeter, so I have taken the pragmatic approach to ensure that in practice the policy was as safe as possible. To this end, I welcomed DCC intention to be able switch on specific street lights “at the flick of a switch” if requested by Devon & Cornwall Police and other Blue Light services in emergency situations.

Through some recent correspondence, it became apparent that this system hasn’t been put in place, let alone tested, in the 7 months that street lights West of Exe have been operating as PNSL

And the officers’s response to my shock and anger this failing was that they didn’t see it as a priority and wanted to sort out the other problems besetting the system first. I AM HORRIFIED BY THIS STATEMENT and we’ve got an assurance that this will be dealt with within the next 2 weeks.

Now onto those 06:00 rather than 05;30 ends to the PNSL cycle. The initial report to DCC Cabinet said that the CMS would enable DCC to swtitch-off and DIM  street lights.

What was planned was that the lights would come back on at 05:30 and at 06:00 would start to progressively dim, until natural light levels would switch them off for the daytime.

A major computer software update took place and officers were *unaware*that they had to carry-out a two-part instruction to complete the update – this resulted in the switch-on and dimming phases both starting at 6a. Hopefully this is now rectified?

That led on to a discussion keeping residents up-to-date about progress on part-night street lighting.

When WoE councillors were told about the impending start of the big switch-off, my Cowick colleague (Cllr Heather Morris) was told that DCC would use traditional mainstream media.

What this meant in practice was that DCC issued a media release on 31/03/14 when PNSL came to Cowick at 00:30 on 01/04/14. Thus it was reported on the Express And Echo  website ahead of the switch-off but was only reported in the weekly print edition on 03/04/14.

But ahead of that, Heather and I did our best to make everyone in Cowick aware, whether face-to-face on the doorstep and meetings, in our newsletters and on social media presence. I know that I did at least 2 radio interviews with Matt Woodley for BBC Devon’s Good Morning Devon and one for Spotlight.

Since then , there’s been 3 issues of the Exeter Citizen, each with an insert from DCC but no mention of PNSL. Surely a publication delivered FREE to each and every household and business in Exeter would be a good vehicle to let the residents of Exeter keep up-to-date with the progress of PNSL? The officers didn’t know how to access those pages…we let them know.

With all the problems besetting PNSL over the river, you would have thought that this would be a good time to delay the roll-out to other parts of Exeter? But no, DCC issued a media release dated 17/11/14 for PNSL to start in the wards of Duryard and Pennsylvania on 19/11/14.

Yet during the meeting the officers let slip that it didn’t start there until “last night” (yes, another direct quote) –  that would have been 27/11/14, EIGHT days after the advertised date. No wonder, citizens of Exeter are confused about PNSL.

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