FoI REQUEST IR2396596 | Preparing for Cowick PNSL

In September 2014, I noticed that street lights were coming on during the day – a fault known as ‘day burn”.

In response to my questions, Devon County Council said this was because the computer-based Central Management System lost communication with the area nodes on the top of some street lights that control the rest of the lights in the area. For obvious safety reasons, the default  setting when this happens is that all street lights are switched ON.

Thinking that DCC hadn’t installed enough area nodes to cover Cowick adequately, I put in a Freedom of Information request. Here is the response:

Environmental Information Regulations 2004 Information Request: IR2396596

Date of Request: 15 January 2015

Date of Disclosure: 02 February 2015

Devon County Council’s response is provided below in green text:


Q1 Can you tell me how many area nodes were initially installed to control the street lights in Cowick?

Four area (Branch) nodes control the street lights in Cowick Ward.

Q2 Have any additional area nodes been installed to rectify the system failure in the summer?

No additional area nodes were installed.

Q3 Can you identify each and every area node (street and lamp-post number) being used to control street lights in Cowick?

The area nodes are located at: Street light number 9 Dunsford Road, Street light number 37 Dunsford Road, Street light number 1 Charnley Avenue, and Street light number 12 Little Johns Cross Hill.

Street light number 12 Little Johns Cross Hill (note the white dome on the top!)
Street light number 12 Little Johns Cross Hill (note the white dome on the top!)

Q4 If no additional area nodes have been installed since the summer, what actions have been taken by both DCC and the system manufacture/designer/installer to prevent a re- occurance of ‘day-burn”?

The four area nodes control nearly 500 individual lights in Cowick Ward and each can control up to 250 lights, so the existing nodes are sufficient for the existing ward and any future additions that might arise from new residential developments. Among the lights controlled by an area node, up to three lights can be designated as booster units to assist combinations.

Day burning faults can arise from a fluctuation in the power supply, loss of communications or component failure, so any future occurrence would need to be investigated and appropriate action taken. When day-burning persists and radio communication appears to be the problem, then the County Council will work with the manufacturer to resolve this as quickly as possible. This could be a re-configuration of the communication network in the area by re-assigning booster nodes, or even relocation of the area node to a better position.

“Day burn’ also happens for a few days when DCC are placing new street lights under control of the Central Management System. No, I can’t explain why, but I’ve asked DCC!

The history of Part-Night Street Lighting in #Cowick

It’s been a long convoluted journey leading to the introduction of Part-Night Street Lighting [PNSL] in Cowick on All-Fools’ Day on 01/04/4.

Devon County Council have been keen to introduce a scheme of switching of  non-essential street lighting between the hours of 12:30am and 5:30am for many years.

A new street lighting policy was approved in July 2007 (ref: EEC/07/216/HQ)

A decision to implement part night lighting in residential areas was approved in January 2009 (ref: EEC/09/8/HQ).

MWN announced the start of PNSL in Big Switch-Off in Devon on 08 October 2009

Back in 2009 justification was as a carbon saving measure (It is estimated that PNSL across the county could save up to 4,000 tonnes of CO2, but of late all the rhetoric has been about cutting the budget and saving money.

By August 2010, there was talk of a 6-month trial period of PNSL in Exeter – as reported by WMN in Council leaders are considering Part-night street lighting (28 Aug 2010).

I was selected to stand as Labour and Co-operative candidate in November 2010.

In December, I wrote A Bright Idea? highlighting the environmental advantages, but asking for the views of residents.

Just after i was elected in May 2011, I wrote to DCC asking what was being planned – but I received no response.

The next we heard was that  in April 2012, DCC Cabinet agreed to purchase a Street Lighting Monitoring System at an estimated cost of £1.7m

This was reported by WMN on 11 April 2012 in £1.7m cost of technology to turn off street lights.

The report carried a quote from Cllr Stuart Hughes, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation:  “The new system would allow the council more flexibility to manage, monitor or dim lights progressively, as traffic and pedestrian numbers dropped, and turn them on and off as needed.”

 Then in early 2013, we heard a rumour that DCC were planning to introduce PNSL across Exeter – no details, no timetable, nothing.It was thought DCC would just turn the lights off all over the city without any consultation – perhaps even doing across Exeter on one night?

The consultation on Exeter PNSL was (apparently) launched at the beginning of May 2013, but I first found out about the proposals almost a month later!

On 06 June 2013 Express and Echo outlined the PNSL proposals in a article In the dark? Much of Exeter faces blackout

Devon County Council has a dedicated website about PNSL for Exeter, and under proposals states: “Outline proposals have been developed with the help of local councillors, the police and other stakeholders.”

What that really means is that councillors both Exeter City Council and Devon County Council demanded a Members’ Briefing with DCC’s Street Lighting Team and Cabinet Members to discuss how PNSL would work in Exeter.

Once the consultation was underway, I wrote another Storify, Is DCC taking a dim view of Exeter with it’s *consultation* on PNSL?

Some of those themes were developed in More on PNSL

In  September 2013, E&E was talking about a leaked police report that raised major concerns over PNSL plans

17/04/14 | #ExeterPNSL starts on April Fools Day

16/08/14 | #TorbayPNSL or not?

12/11/14 | Bowhay Lane #Cowick

18/11/14 | #ExeterPNSL Part 3

29/11/14 | #ExeterPNSL

11/12/14 | #CowickPNSL

11/12/14 | #DCC meeting about #PNSL in #Exeter

22/12/14 | #PNSL according the Labour Party 

Solar PV panels on Exeter’s city council car parks

It’s always risky claiming to be the first…with 14 men and 13 women as part of the ruling Exeter Labour Group on the 40 member Exeter City,  Council, I believe that we are one of the first to come close to 50:50 parity. Each and every time, I take care to qualify this claim.

So when I read on the website of Association of Green Councillors:
05 December 2014
Green councillor wins £200k for Britain’s first solar car park
alarm bells start ringing.

I started to read the article and notice Green councillor Simon Grover on St Albans Council is a little more cautious in describing his victory at the annual budget setting meeting on 03 December 2014 , where he as 1 of 29 who voted through an amendment that approved £200,000 investment in solar PV units for council-owned open air car parks (with a majority of one).

Simon said: “I am not aware of any other UK council car parks that use these, though there will be privately-run ones.”

And he went on to say  that this would be “subject to all the usual planning and costing checks, but work should year.”

But I KNOW that St Alban isn’t the first local authority to place solar PV panels on the top decks of their car parks.

Exeter City Council started to install solar PV panels on the roofs of Council building in March 2013, and by April 2013 Exeter Labour Party were already considering schemes for placing solar panels on other buildings including building canopies above the top deck of car parks.

I sit on Exeter City Council’s Scrutiny Committee: Resources which considered at it’s meeting on 19 March 2014 a reported entitled “An Energy Neutral Council – A Renewables and Energy Efficient Programme

The purpose of the report was “To support a programme of renewable and energy saving initiatives that will assist in the delivery of corporate priorities around improving the environment and maintaining the assets of the city as well as providing essential income and long term savings to the Council.”

The Resources Committee agreed to the recommendations and the report moved on to be considered at the Executive meeting of 01 April 2014.

They RESOLVED that:
(1) progress made to date in delivering renewable and energy efficient initiatives be noted;
(2) proposed new initiatives, included in Phase I and II as set out in the report be endorsed;
(3) the Corporate Manager Property, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder Enabling Services, Deputy Chief Executive and Assistant Director Finance be authorised to approve delivery of further energy saving projects within the Capital Programme funding allocation; and
(4) progress and outcomes of the programme be reported to Scrutiny Committee – Resources on a regular basis.

One of the first ideas to be explored was to  progress the earlier plans to install solar PV panels on the City Council’s car parks.

The plans were reported in the E&E – City Council plans to fit solar panels to Exeter car parks (27 March 2014)

The plans were outlined in an article in E&E in Council plans more than 1000 solar panels over Exeter’s car parks in ‘ground breaking project’ (04 November 2014).

The Planning Committee held on 08 December 2014 considered 2 applications:

14/4623/16:  Installation of photovoltaic solar panels on the top deck of John Lewis multi-storey car park.

14/4624/16:  Installation of photovoltaic solar panels on the top deck of Mary Arches multi-storey car park. 

and both were approved.

So I’m not going to claim that Exeter City Council will be the first local authority to install solar PV panels in our owns car parks – but we are certainly in their with the vanguard with our ground breaking plans.

Update on #ExeterPNSL

Back in December I was part of delegation of West Exe cllrs who met with officers dealing with part-night street lighting for Exeter.

One of the topics I raised was the lack of information about problems and progress.

This update from Devon County Council showing the progress in the implementation of part-night lighting in Exeter indicates they have taken note of those comments.

The update will be formally presented at the Exeter HATOC meeting of 27 January and will be revised monthly.


PROGRESS UPDATE – 16 December 2014

The implementation of part-night operation of street lights in Exeter began in September 2013 in Alphington and Cowick wards and involved the fitting of remote monitoring components into existing lanterns and replacement of existing lanterns that were not suitable. Similar work in Exwck and St Thomas wards began in October 2013.

Street lights in Alphington and Cowick started operating part-night in April 2014 and in Exwick and St Thomas in May 2014.

Each individual street light has a communication node fitted to it and up to 250 lighting units in an area are controlled by a Branch node located within the ward.

Communication between the nodes and branch, and between the branch and central control is via air-borne radio communication and can be accessed via the internet. So it is possible to allocate switching profiles to individual and groups of lights so that they can operate all-night or part-night.

The efficient operation of this remote monitoring system relies on good radio communications and the geographic location of branch controllers, so that command instructions can be issued as necessary. The lights themselves will operate during the day for a day or two when first commissioned and then operate dusk to dawn, or part-night as required. In some instances however, lights have been on during the day for longer than envisaged, either as a result of poor communications, or faulty components.

These issues have affected a small percentage of lights so far converted and the County Council has been working closely with the system manufacturer to resolve these problems. In the main, a re-mapping of nodes and their branch controllers have been sufficient to improve communications, but in some areas it has been necessary to install additional branch controllers.

The County Council will continue to work closely with the system manufacturer in implementing this new technology in Exeter and using it to its full potential.

Conversion work began in Duryard and Pennsylvania wards in June 2014 and lights started operating part-night in November 2014.

Conversion work began in St James ward in October 2014 and in St Davids ward in November, lights in both wards will remain operational all night.

The table below gives details of units converted to-date in each ward with the remaining provisional implementation programme shown in descending order.

Alphington 99% Complete * Yes 1214 792
Cowick 99% Complete * Yes 441 331
St Thomas 99% Complete * Yes 398 305
Exwick 99% Complete * Yes 889 190
Duryard 99% Complete * Yes 193 143
Pennsylvania 99% Complete * Yes 634 462
St James 99% Complete * No 330 0
St Davids 99% Complete * No 218 0
Priory Branch & new units Not Yet 18 0
St Leonards Branch & new units Not Yet 6 0
Newtown Branch node only No 1 0
Polsloe Branch & new units Not Yet 4 0
Pinhoe Branch & new units Not Yet 20 0
Mincinglake Branch node only Not Yet 1 0
Heavitree Branch & new units Not Yet 21 0
Whipton Barton Branch & new units Not Yet 8 0
St Loyes Branch & new units Not Yet 3 0
Topsham Branch & new units Not Yet 31 0

* Although conversion works are substantially complete, there are a small number of lanterns that are of modern architectural design, or classic heritage type, that are not suitable for immediate conversion with the remote monitoring system. These lanterns may also be expensive to replace, or still have quite a long working life remaining.

As technology develops and when the bulk of the works are complete in Exeter as a whole, the wards will be revisited to see if there are affordable solutions to address these remaining lanterns.

Branch nodes, which control over 200 lighting units, have been installed in all wards, more than one in some wards. The remote monitoring equipment has also been installed where lanterns have been replaced, or developments have been taking place. These wards will not operate part-night until conversion works are substantially complete.

#Exeter street lights will stay off on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve

At Devon County Council’s Full Council meeting on 11/12/14 , Cllr Roy Hill [LAB, Alphington/Cowick] asked a number of questions about part-night street lighting in Exeter.

One particular question was:

Re: Streetlighting on 24th and 31st December 2014

Would Councillor Hughes consider keeping on those street lights on 24th and 31st December which have been switched off as part of the night time part street lighting?


The remote monitoring system that we invested in for Exeter provides for the option to switch lights back on without having to visit each individual lighting column. This is not the case in other areas of Devon where the remote monitoring system does not operate. However, the operation of part-night lighting was developed and agreed through a process of public consultation and Member input. This was to ensure that street lights that need to remain on all night are not converted to part night operation and remain lit all night, for example in areas of high night time activity, on main roads and on walking home routes. So whilst I would consider lights remaining lit on the 24th and 31st December in Exeter, I would need to understand why this is any better than the scheme that has been the subject of public consultation and Member agreement.

The reasoning behind this particular question goes all the way back to June 2013 when DCC Cabinet Members and Highways/Street Lighting officers gave a briefing on PNSL to cllrs – of all hues and from both Exeter City Council and Devon County Council.

I’ve just checked through my notes, tweets, storify feeds and blogs, but I can’t find what I was looking for.

At that briefing, I distinctly remember one of the representatives telling us that the £1.7m computerised Central Management System would be able to revert back to all-night street lighting for “special occasions” when more people than normal may be out and about in the dark – and I believe he even mentioned New Year’s Eve!

Earlier today, Roy forwarded a formal written response to his question at Full Council which sheds some light [yes, pun intended] on how DCC view such a request

Whilst it is technically possible to switch all of the lights on in Exeter on the 24th and 30th December, I think it is unnecessary give the consultation on the scheme and the care we have taken to develop the Exeter scheme. 

We have agreed that certain routes and areas in Exeter will remain lit including:

  • All main routes in the City,
  • A network of walking home routes developed through the consultation process,
  • Areas of high night time activity, like the city centre,
  • Areas under public Order CCTV surveillance,
  • Other lights agreed based on evidence and police support.

So, this leaves residential areas operating on a part night basis with the lights in those areas where Part-Night [Street] Lighting has been installed switching off between about 12:30 and coming back on at about 5:30. In these areas, people should be becoming familiar with the regime, which will operate throughout the year.

We have suggested that anyone planning to be out in a part-night lit area late at night carries a torch to illuminate part of their journey. 

The agreed approach on changing from part-night to full time operation of a light is to base a decision on evidence, which in needs to be supported by the police in the case of fear of crime. So, if there is any evidence that can be used to justify a change we can look at this but otherwise, given the process we have been through, I don’t see the need to make a wholesale change to the agreed scheme.

The response makes no mention of those “special occasions” when more people may be taking to the streets in the dark – and so it looks like the next “special occasion’ might be the arrival of the next millennium!

So if you’re planning to be out and out after midnight, please stay safe AND REMEMBER YOUR TORCH



#CowickPNSL – 6 months (or so) on

The recent #CometLanding of the robot probe Philae on the icy 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on the back of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta satellite programme has got me looking skywards again.

And I quite often check the spot the station website  and then stand outside my front door to watch the International Space Station pass overhead and wonder what it might look like without the night blight of the street lights.

Those living West of the Exe can experience this. They are subject to a Devon County Council policy known as Part-Night Street Lighting whereby the street lights are switched off between 00:30 and 05:30 to reduce their carbon footprint and save money.

When I first heard of the plans, I was interested – what would Dark Skies over Exeter look like?

Just up the road, in November 2011 the night sky above Exmoor National Park was granted International Dark-Sky Reserve (IDR) status by the International Dark-Sky Association. The status means the night-sky is protected and lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution.

It reminds me of my youth, camping under stars on Dartmoor – the dark skies were wonderful.

Delivering dark skies above Exeter, that’s a different  thing, isn’t it?. Well, according to Devon County Council, NO it isn’t!

They told me and my fellow councillors over and over again, it would be easy because they’ve converted villages and towns across Devon.

We begged to differ, and begged to exclude more streets from the nightly switch-off. For some areas, we were successful; in others, not.

In Cowick, we managed to add Cowick Lane, Buddle Lane and the walkway (“The Slip”) between Buddle Lane/Merrivale Road to DCC’s list  – that wasn’t very extensive, as it was only the B3121 Dunsford Road (probably the best candidate for switch-off, as for most of its length it’s a country road!).

Throughout the scant consultation process, I was keen to help DCC deliver PNSL in Cowick but only if they could prove it would be safe.

Since Cowick was converted to PNSL on 01 April 2014, we have been in regular contact with the Cowick & St THomas Neighbourhood Beat team from Devon & Cornwall Police – they send me monthly updates of crime statistics across the area, and these are showing NO increase in reported crime during the times of PNSL operation.

But my dealings with DCC have been more fraught. I’m highlighting them here as they will form a basis for my eagerly anticipated meeting to review how the introduction of PNSL has worked in Cowick and across West Exe.

1. Consultation

It took a lot of effort for local city and councillors to get DCC to agree to any form of meaningful engagement with the general public…they organised public consultation events across the city. However, despite our best efforts, DCC didn’t work too hard to advertise the meetings and as a consequence few members of the public turned up.

But DCC did agree to publish the results of these consultations (in February 2014)…and the page on their Street Lighting webpages is there waiting for the report.

“We have received over 85 comments, the majority of which have been in favour of the proposals.

The responses are being analysed and a summary of the responses will be posted on the website at the end of February 2014”

Elsewhere, DCC promise “A report on the Exeter Street Lighting consultation will be available in May 2014″

It’s now mid November 2014, and I haven’t seen this report. Where is it?

The formal public consultation meetings have now finished, however you are still able make your views known by using the comments form 

2. Safety

I’ve loudly and often that my main concern is that PNSL is delivered safely. DCC has several website pages dedicated to PNSL in Exeter, including a link to a Equality Impact and Needs Assessment for the Street Lighting policy – the trouble is that this assessment ran out in January 2013.

There is a new one in place (I’ve seen it, it’s hidden elsewhere on DCC site), so why isn’t it published on the dedicated website pages?

Indeed, this page promises “a final Impact Assessment will be available in May 2014″  so why hasn’t it there?

3. Map

Which streets will have their street lights switched off between 00:30 and 05:30? And which street lights will be left on?

There is a link to a map on the dedicated website.

The trouble is that it is the draft used in the consultation that ended in November 2013.

This shows that the only road to remain lit would be the B3121 Dunsford Road – the consultations managed to add Cowick Lane, Buddle lane and the cut-through to Merrivale Road to the list.

Leading up to the introduction of Cowick PNSl I asked for a new map to be published showing these alterations. I was told that this was on its way. Seven months on, why am I still waiting?

I also asked for a better form of mapping – zooming in on the pdf isn’t really suitable as the image is extremely blurred on a ward level, let alone on a street view. I was told that this was on its way. Seven months on, why am I still waiting?

4. Publicity

Having been concerned about how DCC publicised the public engagement and consultation events, my co-councillor for Cowick, Heather Morris, specifically asked DCC how they would advertise the introduction of PNSL to Cowick on All-Fools Day 2014.

She was keen for them to do a leaflet drop to every household in the ward – she was informed that DCC would use the traditional mainstream media.

In practice this meant issuing a press release on 31/03/14.

But not everyone reads the (weekly!) Express & Echo, watches Spotlight SW on BBC1 or listen to  BBC Radio Devon’s Good Morning, Devon. In my view not the best way to inform the 2,500 households and 5,500 residents of Cowick.

We tried our best with newsletter, tweets and Facebook postings, but again not the best way to contact a whole ward.

I hope that DCC will have learned their lesson..and will rethink their strategy on this when the roll-out across Exeter starts up again in the New Year.

5. Pilot

Since Cowick PNSL started, many residents have referred to this stage as a pilot  or trial.

Let me be clear about this – it is neither

Devon County Council WILL be implementing this policy across the city of Exeter – the roll-out for now has been stalled (whether by accident or design).

There have been delays to installing the equipment on the lamp housings across the rest of the city.

There been operational problems that have arising West of Exe.

Have DCC learned from these problems? I hope so!

6. Equipment

I know that DCC Cabinet approved a budget of £1.7m to be spent on a computer control management system but I’ve neve been told how the equipment (both the computer hardware and associated software) would work.

it seems that the main computer (at County Hall?) communicates with area controllers situated around the city, and it is these that actually control the switching on and off of individual street lights.

However, sometimes communication between the area controllers and the street lights fails – and as a safety default the street lights come on.

This is happening too often to be a minor problem.

Could it be that DCC (or their supplier) haven’t put in too few area controllers to cope with the terrain West of the Exe as a cost-saving measures?

7. Emergency situations

We were constantly told that in emergency situations, street lights could be switched on if requested by the police and other Blue Light Services.

At first, it was intimated at this could be achieved with a smartphone app…but the reality was that actually they would phone DCC’s Highway Operations Control Centre (hi @HughHOCC!) who would switch the relevant lights on).

It was revealed to Cllr Heather Morris earlier tnis week, that 7 months in, the software has been written but HAS NOT BEEN TRIALLED.

And when Heather asked if the lights could be switched on in Bowhay Lane and Kerswill Road as she had safety concerns over the Wales + West Utilities work, it took 4 days for this to happen.

DCC need to arrange a way that when such works are happening in future, there is a protocol in place for arrangements for the street lights to be left on.

8. Special Occasions

DCC have suggested that at New Year (and other such special events), they will arrange for the street lights be left on.

I’m now wondering if they can deliver this!

Too many questions are still unanswered 7 months after the street lights started being switched off.

We were promised a catch-up meeting 6 months into the policy…we’re still waiting.

he cynic in me is thinking that the DCC street lighting team are aware of our serious concerns and do not have the answers to satisfy us.

Meanwhile, where’s my Pietlzl head-torch?

Tpb pic